When scholars such as Richard Cox (2000) tell us that the “information age heralds a time when every person … can harness more information in practical ways than ever before” (n.p.), we may ask, as does Mary Cavanagh (2006), “is it reasonable to argue for increased funding for public libraries when the Internet is such a powerful, alternative information source?” (p. 3). The problem, however, is navigating and evaluating information on the internet. Here a reference librarian may be of service.
For this project, I identified a polarizing issue widely discussed on the Internet to see how librarians could help me find useful answers. I consulted an academic library and a public library, both in person and through online chat services. In subsequent posts, I analyse the interviews according to the framework set out by Cassell and Hiremath (2011, p. 17), assess how “human-centred” mediation (Cavanaugh, p. 3) influences information-seeking, and provide some reflections on the quality of the experience.
My toddler is having trouble transitioning from his crib into a bed. Sleep deprivation (his and mine) is taking its toll on our household. The Internet has plenty of information on the subject, but much of it is opinion with little consensus. Hence my problem for the librarian:
“I am looking for information on how to sleep-train a toddler.”
I planned to provide the following additional information over the course of the interviews, if asked:
- I am asking as a parent.
- I have Googled; information is conflicting and hard to evaluate.
- I am wary of pop psychology and passing trends.
- I am interested in peer-reviewed research.
- I am new to the library.
Because my issue is both academic and pragmatic (I want research findings and parenting advice), I decided to approach both a large university library and the central branch of a municipal public library. I first tried their online chat services and then went in person, conducting four interviews in total.
My breakdown of the interviews is inspired by Cassell and Hiremath’s analysis of the elements of a reference interview: establishing rapport, “negotiating the question,” developing a search strategy, finding information, and follow-up and close (p. 17).
Cassell, Kay Ann & Hiremath, Uma. (2011) Reference and Information Services in the 21st century(2nd Revised ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman.
Cavanagh, M. (2006).Re-conceptualizing the Reference Transaction: The Case for Interaction and Information Relationships at the Public Library Reference Desk. Canadian Journal of Information & Library Sciences, 30(1/2), 1-19.
Cox, R. (2000, Sept.) The Information Age and History: Looking Backward to See Us. Ubiquity.
Radford, M. L. (2008) Encountering virtual users: a qualitative investigation of interpersonal communication in chat reference. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 57(8), 1046-1059.
Ward, J. & Barbier, P. (2009) Best Practices in Chat Reference Used by Florida’s Ask a Librarian Virtual Reference Librarians. The Reference Librarian, 51:1, 53-68.
[Done as part of assignment for LIBR 503 at the UBC iSchool]