Thursday, May 5, 2016

Reference is dead, long live reference

Pierucci, Jessica

Terrell, H. B. (2015). Reference is dead, long live reference: Electronic collections in the digital age. Information Technology and Libraries 34(4), 55-62. doi:10.6017/ital.v34i4.9098


The role of print reference in the library is becoming increasingly unclear as electronic information becomes more and more ubiquitous. The author explains that only about 10% of print reference collections are now used. Some librarians have expressed concern about the print reference collection diminishing in size and use, citing concerns of browsability of print, potential reliability issues for electronic sources, and access for those without library cards who therefore cannot use library internet. The author dismisses these concerns, explaining how ready reference is now best handled using mainly electronic resources in the current information environment and many electronic sources used in the library have no more issues with reliability than print sources. In addition, the author thinks the concern about patrons without internet access is better and more cost effectively addressed in ways other than keeping a mostly unused print reference collection for this group of patrons. For example, San Francisco Public Library has the Welcome Card allowing those who don’t qualify for a library card (often due to lack of an address or proper identification) to use computers and check out one book at a time, giving the user limited library privileges. The author cites this as a much better solution to the concern of those without ability to get library card being able to only use print than keeping unused reference material around.


The article’s title is a bit deceiving. The author doesn’t think reference itself it dead. Instead the author thinks the reference print collection is dead and needs to be dramatically weeded in favor of more highly used electronic reference resources. I’m happy that’s the case as I think reference is still important to help patrons develop valuable search skills and find what they want in the library’s collection. This just happens increasingly online.

I agree with the author’s assessment of the print reference collection as in the library where I work I’ve seen how rarely the librarians turn to print to answer reference questions. They generally favor library databases and other electronic resources. They show patrons how to search these resources to find the information they want to answer their inquiry. I was happy to see a passionate argument for weeding a rarely used part of the library’s collection. In a time of ever-shrinking budgets it’s great to find the places where the library can cut acquisitions and weed out unused material to put funds toward well-used parts of the collection.

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