Friday, February 6, 2015
20. Reference Librarian: Role, Skills, and Competencies P- 05. Information Sources, Systems and Services
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MODULE 20 : REFERENCE LIBRARIAN: ROLE, SKILLS, AND COMPETENCIES
Content Writer : Prof. (Dr.) SEWA SINGH, former Professor & Head, Department of Library and Information Science, Guru Nanak Dev University, AMRITSAR.
Subject Name: Library and Information Science Paper Name : Information Sources, Services and Systems Module
Title : Reference Librarian: Role, Skills, and Competencies Module Id : LIS/ISSS/20 Pre-requisites : Knowledge about reference services and sources, Library and information professionals, Reference desk and reference librarian
Objectives : To understand the role of reference librarian in providing reference and information services, know about the skills and other competencies required for reference librarian Keywords : Reference Service, Reference Librarian, Qualifications, Skills, Competencies
Reference service has long been recognized as an indispensable part of the functions of a library and information system. It is provided to the users in search of information deemed appropriate to meet their information needs. It is personal assistance provided by library staff, particularly the reference librarian. The reference librarian connects the user and the document or/and information. The role of the reference librarian is very important in the process of providing reference service. He/she must not only be highly qualified but should also acquire suitable skills and competencies to be equipped to assess users’ needs and provide them the needed information. In this Module we will discuss the role of the reference librarians in the modern libraries. A reference librarian has basically four roles, these are, teach people how to use the library and its resources, answer queries for specific information, recommend good sources and reading material and promote the library within the community. Besides their role, the required skills and competencies will also be explained.
2 ROLE OF REFERENCE LIBRARIAN
Louis Shores states that in the simplest terms “reference may be defined as the process of locating information”. The services provided to the users to help them with their information enquiries are 2 reference services. These are the bedrock services which the users of libraries and information systems value and make use of for their benefit. The users know, in view of the enormity of library resources, that “the half of knowledge is knowing where to find it”. This is what Shores calls reference, which becomes learning, as the “fourth R”, and as important as the other three.
The knowledge of the three R’s, i.e., reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic is considered as the basis of any elementary education. Therefore, reference as the ‘fourth R’, obviously underlines its importance in the education system as a whole. It is so because reference service is more than someone asking a question and someone else answering it. In other words, it is about someone with an information problem interacting with someone with information skills. The library staff which works to provide these services are called reference staff, and are headed by the ‘reference librarian’. The library usually establishes a separate section responsible for activities related to users’ enquiries is called the ‘reference section’ with a reference desk. Thomas et al. observes that since the reference desk is “likely to be centrally located and highly visible, it should be an obvious place to turn for assistance”. Library users turn to reference librarian when they do not know who to ask or when they are looking for a specific piece of information and do not know where to begin. Therefore, in many cases, library users will require knowledgeable, sympathetic assistance from the reference librarian. Though librarianship as a whole is a helping profession, yet reference librarian is more involved with providing direct help to the users. The role of reference librarian is, therefore, of vital importance for the library as well as for the users. He/she has to be effective in this role because he/she receives a number of enquiries by diverse users with diverse needs.
His/Her success lies in tactfully handling most of the queries to the satisfaction of the enquirers. So a reference librarian connects people with information and ideas by organizing and facilitating retrieval of information in all formats. Reference librarian not only works with people, but also with human knowledge. In a way, a reference librarian first diagnoses and then treats information deficiencies of users. As stated by Brophy, enquiries from users can take many forms. For example, they may be: - directional type enquiries, asking the reference librarian “where is” a particular library collection, or literature on a subject, etc. - factual enquiries, asking for a discrete piece of information, such as the boiling point of a chemical. - library policy or procedure, such as opening hours, reservation procedures, or loan periods. - skills-related enquiries, such as how to use the OPAC. - known-item searching, such as how to check whether an item, bibliographic details of which are known, is in the library’s stock. - Subject enquiries, such as how to find information on any particular topic. In order to fulfil his/her role, a reference librarian performs the following functions:
a) User Instruction: Traditionally, the role of reference librarian has been to instruct the new users about the organization of library and information resources so that they could make use of the information and knowledge contained in books and other documents. Some of the most frequently used methods to acquaint the new users with the art of using a library include library 3 guides, leaflets on how to find a book or a periodical, signs, slide shows, video displays, etc. However, the face of libraries has been changing and today they contain resources in various formats serving more users. User instruction has assumed more significance and the role and responsibilities of reference librarians have also increased and they are searching more effective means of providing such instruction. The impact of this function could be to acquaint and acclimatize the users with the library environment and to remove their difficulties.
b) Assisting the Users in Queries: This is very important role a reference librarian plays while in the reference section. It is usually assumed that the person behind the reference desk is kindly and knowledgeable and can answer questions of all the users approaching him/her. He/She also stands up to his reputation of a know-all person and provides assistance to those library users who need help in locating resources and/or information, because he/she is equipped with adequate knowledge and skills to retrieve the desired answers. As a result the users are provided with sufficient knowledge about reference and other sources to locate answers for themselves.
c) Advisory Services: This is considered an important function as it establishes a link between his/her knowledge of the library resources and the information needs of the users. When the users do not know what they want to read, a reference librarian can suggest some ‘good’ titles to help them. Over the years, the meaning of ‘good’ has also undergone a change from morally and spiritually uplifting books to those documents that are most appropriate and relevant to the information needs of users. Suggesting good works to users even in the present times is important because there has been overflow of documents in all subjects, and the users may not be aware about what all they want to read. This service can be better performed if the reference librarian has wide-ranging interests and is well read. By personally helping the users with warmth and enthusiasm, the reference librarian has made his/her services as personalized reference services which will not only give them some level of satisfaction but in the long run will also have deep impact in making them regular library users and thereby promoting library resources.
d) Promoting the Library Resources: The reference librarian can easily promote among his/her users the valuable collection and other resources of the library and information system. He can easily link the new resources with the old ones and promote their use among the users. In some libraries, users also believe that the reference librarian understands the world of books better so they approach him/her for some readings on a given topic. He/She can organize displays of new books as well as displays of books on a given subject at regular intervals to bring the resources to the notice of the library users.
e) Help in Developing Library Collection: A reference librarian can also play a significant role in developing library collections. He/She, by virtue of his/her functions, knows the stock of the library better and can help more effectively in identifying the weak points in the collection. He/She can make recommendations for new acquisitions so that the new resources will serve the needs of the users better.
The American Library Association has stated that a reference librarian has to perform the following functions:
a) Supervision Function: It requires the reference librarian and other reference staff to organize the reference section properly so that users’ queries could be answered adequately.
b) Information Function: The reference librarian performs this function to provide required information in response to users’ enquiries. 4
c) Guidance Function: He/She is required to give guidance to users in search of good literature and information that will be of value to them.
d) Instruction Function: A reference librarian provides instruction to the new as well as old users in the use of library resources and tools.
He/She should instruct the users in finding answers to their own questions. The idea behind this function is that the users should be given the opportunity to learn how to use the library. It is beneficial for both, i.e., to the reference librarian as it provides a status of a teacher to him/her, and it helps the users, particularly those involved in research activities. The advent of computers and related technologies has given such type of instruction a boost. It is now called as information literacy referred by many other terms earlier.
e) Bibliographic Function: In libraries of academic institutions, reference librarian must prepare to give specific lectures on bibliography of a particular subject. He/She must teach the users how to prepare a bibliography, how to use indexing service, or how to prepare an abstract of a document, or even some lectures on research methodology.
f) Appraisal Function: The reference librarian may provide appraisal with respect to books and other documents, but should refrain from providing opinion.
The Reference and Adult Services Division of the American Library Association, in its guidelines for reference librarians which serve as philosophy of reference service, succinctly states it from the following six points of view:
1) Services: The primary service, it says is “to provide an end product: the information sought by the user.”
2) Resources: The second important duty is teaching people how to find information from various sources in the library.
3) Access: An easy access be provided to the library resources, both current and accurate. There should also be easy access to the reference librarian.
4) Personnel: The importance of library personnel “thoroughly familiar with and competent in using information sources” is underlined.
5) Evaluation: The need for evaluation of reference librarian and reference services is highlighted. The reference librarian is required to be approachable, conducting reference interview, conducting a search, and following up if he/she has succeeded to satisfy the users.
6) Ethics: They have also developed a code of ethics that “governs the conduct of all staff members.” However, the roles of reference librarians have been changing with the changes in the face of the libraries in developed and developing countries.
2.1 Paradigm Shift in Role of Reference Librarian There has been visible change in the profession of librarianship from the traditional setting to the modern age librarianship. In the present times of Internet, where information is available in abundance, the reference librarian no more sits amidst the reference sources waiting for the users to approach him/her. As the world of information is undergoing a rapid change, reference librarians now work with the information by learning about its storage, retrieval, evaluation and dissemination. In such a situation, where use of information communication technology in libraries is widespread, it should not be treated as 5 a threat; it has rather presented the reference librarians an opportunity to change their roles and work with computer savvy users. Development and application of information communication technology is playing a significant role in restructuring the traditional libraries into innovative digital libraries. There has been shift from: - human dependent library operations to machine dependent activities; - data processing to knowledge processing; - stand-alone systems to networked systems; - document-centred information to user-centred information; - print resources to electronic resources; and - online information retrieval to CD-ROM databases; etc.
These are some of the shifts which are happening in the library and information profession. These are also changing the role of reference librarian. Librarians worldwide have been adjusting to the shifts mentioned above, particularly from the printed era to the digital era. The new role assumed by the reference librarians, as a result of innovations, would make it imperative for them to provide such reference services as would ensure the maximum use of sources for the benefit of the users. These innovations have deep impact on the roles, competencies, skills and knowledge of library and information professionals. In this context, Erlendsdottir stated sometimes back that: “We are no longer just the guardians of books. We are information providers in an environment that is constantly changing and where the information needs to be gathered quickly and effectively.
Today our mission is to promote services for the ever increasing amount of information. And even if we don’t like it, information technology has changed our jobs”. As a result, in the restructured and reengineered library with digital information, the role of reference librarian would be that of effective knowledge navigator. He/She would make the flow of information, with the help of new techniques and approaches, more efficient and useful to the users. The reference librarian would be able to provide digital reference service 24x7 days regardless of location through email, instant messaging, video-conferencing, etc. However, as technology continues to develop, different generations of users will be working in different ways. Thus the reference librarian can expand, as Miriam Drake believes, “the use of social networking tools and mobile devices because students rely on them” more than anything else.
3 SKILLS OF REFERENCE LIBRARIAN
There has been a tremendous growth in the use of information communication technologies which have considerably influenced handling, storage, processing, retrieval and dissemination of information to the users. The ultimate aim is to make the right information accessible and available at the right time to the users to enable them to solve their information related problems. The reference librarian and other information professionals should take advantage of this new situation, and equip themselves in a way quite distinct from the conventional methods of providing information services. They must acquire new knowledge and skills which may be compatible to the ever changing roles and responsibilities. In view of these emerging situations in libraries, the Special Libraries Association has undertaken the revision of its 6 1996 document on “Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century” in 2003.
The central idea rooted in this document is that the information professionals “harness technology as a critical tool to accomplish goals.” A good librarian has a multifaceted combination of personality traits and learned skills. All information professionals are required to possess two types of competencies, viz. professional competencies, and personal competencies. These are briefly described as follows:
3.1 Professional Skills and Competencies The information professionals acquire some basic knowledge, skills and competencies during their study in library and information science schools. It is, however, argued that mere acquisition of various facets of librarianship may not be sufficient in the present information and knowledge age. It requires information professionals who know information management well to have competitive edge for the knowledge-based organizations. The ever increasing information, internet, and rise of electronic communications and storage media have been transforming work of the information professionals. These days, information overload has become a growing problem and the reference librarian and other professionals need to filter and provide quality needed information only to the users. Effective reference librarians as well as other information professionals need some competencies to succeed in user services. The RUSA Task Force on Professional Competencies, with Jo Bell Whitlatch as Chairperson, has developed a model of professional competencies for reference and user services librarians. The competencies prepared for the information professionals by the Special Libraries Association include the following four major competencies: Comment 2: A reference for this to be provided.
1. Managing information organizations
2. Managing information resources
3. Managing information services
4. Applying information tools and technologies Although the reference librarians are concerned and need to possess all the above competencies, yet they are directly concerned with managing the information services in the libraries and information centres. They are required to manage information services from the concept stage itself, and have to carry out the design of services, their development, testing, marketing, packaging, and delivery of these services to the users. The reference librarians can even develop and provide specific information packages or alerting services for their users. There may be some skills and competencies that can be taught or enhanced during education and training in librarianship. Some of the skills, competencies and knowledge a reference librarian must possess and use to help his users are described below:
3.1.1 Knowledge about Reference and Information Sources and their Effective Use 7 Reference librarian is expected to develop a strong knowledge about the content of reference sources and databases and continually build upon their basic knowledge. He must be in regular touch with all the basic reference sources, keep evaluating them, and know about their effective use. He must also develop knowledge about online catalogues, search systems, web sites, journals and monographs in both printed and electronic formats, videos, and sound recordings, and with his professional skills and expertise can dig out answers from almost any source. He must also know how to construct search terms that will yield results relating to user needs. It also includes knowing the right search terms from users’ queries, find synonyms and related terms so as to obtain the desired results.
3.1.2 Broad Knowledge about Subjects The reference librarian is required to possess a firm knowledge of a subject field. In other cases, he/she may acquire broad knowledge by reading well about most of the subjects and getting acquainted with the terminology. This involves constant reading, and constant attention to new developments. These days, it also involves constantly by being in touch with other experts in the field over the Internet. This way he can deal with the users, particularly researchers, more confidently.
3.1.3 Experience in Research Projects The experience of reference librarian while doing scholarly work can greatly benefit the students as well as the researchers. He/She can very well use his/her skills and experience to advise them in such practical matters as techniques for taking notes, organizing the papers, value of reading secondary sources of literature first to become familiar with a subject, how to present research in a paper so that the flow is interesting and makes sense, how to handle citations, and so on.
3.1.4 Skills in Conducting Reference Interview He/She must acquire adequate skills to assess users’ requirements and abilities, and appropriately identify materials, databases and Web sites to match their information needs. This is important because if reference librarian does not interact with the users, the users may remain unaware of available library resources. However, he/she must use the smart skills in welcoming the users, body language, and display sensitivity to them, techniques to identify user needs and follow them through.
3.1.5 Skills and Competencies of Access These competencies of access relate to dealing with user information overload, and removing barriers to service. These include the ability to identify documents through knowledge of bibliography and indexing, ability to provide solutions that minimize physical barriers to access, and provide services that are responsive to information needs of users. A reference librarian must effectively design and organize reference and information services to meet the needs of users. He/She can achieve it by preparing bibliographies and other special tools to increase access to information resources and to motivate users to use them.
3.1.6 Skills for Collaboration8 RUSA Task Force on Professional Competencies has suggested that in view of the expansion of information and the increasing variety of ways to access information, reference librarian must work with users, colleagues, professional organizations, etc. to ensure that users receive the information they need at the time of need and in the most suitable format. Reference librarian should treat the user as a collaborator and partner in the information seeking process. While working through the information transaction, reference librarian may involve the user and ask for his/her opinion and advice. He/She should also work closely with colleagues to provide quality reference and information services to users.
3.1.6 Professional Search Skills Reference librarian should acquire adequate skills and competencies to be capable of finding and evaluating the information resources best suited for answering specific questions in a variety of subjects. With his/her qualifications, he/she can well understand the structure and organization of information in a variety of disciplines and formats. As such he/she can make expert searches in catalogues, databases as well as Internet sources.
3.1.7 Knowledge about Library Policies and Procedures A reference librarian must have adequate knowledge of library policies, procedures and service standards. He/She must keep himself/herself up to date in various professional issues having impact on library activities. He/She should be in favour of providing free access to information, and effectively resolve any challenges related to intellectual property.
3.1.8 Technology Skills He/She is expected to possess information age skills and competencies. He/She should have good working knowledge of technology, particularly where the search is to be conducted using electronic databases. His/Her knowledge and skills about Internet should be strong so as to navigate, browse, using search syntax, access, retrieve digital documents/information and provide digital reference services. He/She must acquire skills and understanding of how computer search engines work, and even such key concepts as Boolean operators, relevancy searching, etc. He/She can find ways to remove technological barriers, if any, and facilitate information access for the users. The reference librarian must make use of his/her technology skills to contribute to value-added products, such as bibliographies, databases, Web pages, etc. He/She should continually develop skills in using technological tools so as to function creatively in a Web-based environment. If possible, he/she may also acquire skills and competencies about digital archiving and preservation, and multimedia processing.
3.1.9 Marketing Skills In order to promote library and information services among users, reference librarian needs to prepare a strategic plan of operations. Further, he/she can develop a marketing plan, as an aspect of strategic planning, to achieve the goals and objectives. He/She can conduct research to determine what types of reference and information services to provide and to what types of users these services will be provided. For this purpose, he/she can conduct surveys, within and beyond the library building, interact with users to discuss their information needs, and implement the reference services programme that meets the information needs of users. In order to effectively communicate the nature of reference and information 9 services to users, the reference librarian can develop a public relations plan, create encouraging environment in the library, utilize electronic and print media, engage users through lectures, tours, etc. to promote the reference services offered. Reference librarian must make use of such marketing tools as mass mailing- both by email and letters to the users in large numbers. He/She can also make announcements about the new and old information services in every library user education presentation. However, he/she must also consistently and systematically evaluate the effectiveness of the marketing of reference and information services.
3.2 Personal Competencies Every reference librarian must possess some personal competencies to be more effective in his/her dealings with the users. Many of these skills and competencies are character traits that the individual brings with him/her to the profession.
3.2.1 Personality Traits Thomas et al have mentioned some of the personality traits of a good reference librarian that are:“is tactful, intelligent, imaginative, ingenious, helpful, emphatic, curious, persistent, energetic, sensitive, polite, and assured”. He/She must possess the quality of both listening and asking the users whenever needed. The users also expect a reference librarian to wear a proverbial ‘Mona Lisa’ smile, exceptional memory, untiring feet, ready to meet the users without losing balance or sense of humour. An effective reference librarian needs to be non-judgemental and open minded in pursuit of information and quest for knowledge.
3.2.2 Desire to Help Others Thomsen believes that the reference librarian must have a genuine, and determined desire to help others to meet information needs for achieving their goals, no matter what those goals may be. Reference librarian needs to focus on the users’ immediate needs for a fact or help using different kinds of resources, and to provide professional help that is not affected by his/her personal beliefs.
3.2.3 Curiosity The effective reference librarian should always have an element of curiosity in his/her mind. This quality enables him/her to become quickly involved in the needs of library users. This natural curiosity of getting interested in the question of the user and finding answer helps him/her to build rapport with the users as well as conveys an attitude of sincerity.
3.2.4 Ability to Shift Focus In view of Thomsen, the mental agility of being able to shift focus is a necessary complement to curiosity. Although mind of reference librarian is always engaged with users’ questions, he/she should be able to quickly shift to the new questions from the earlier ones. Sometimes, he is simultaneously dealing with several reference queries, and must be able to shift focus to attend to the needs of all. He//She should not become too absorbed in an individual question.
3.2.5 General Knowledge 10 Reference librarian must keep on developing his/her broad general knowledge from various sources of information as that would be a great help to him/her in answering questions. For this purpose, he/she must supplement his/her education by reading newspapers, magazines, and keep up to date on current events, trends, etc. Some events, of course, are predictable, like elections, games at regional/national/international levels, the Olympics, the Oscars, inflation, holidays, etc. The reference librarian must acquire skills about understanding techniques, methods of continuous learning, how to apply knowledge to practice, and plan enhanced services for users. It will also, as Ranganathan suggested in his Fourth Law, save time of both the librarian and the users.
3.2.6 Good Memory Good memory is an asset for the reference librarian, but he/she should never try to answer questions from his/her own memory. However, long-term memory can help to have some good clues about one or the other source to check from. Short-term memory, on the other hand, enables the reference librarian to remember the essential facts, like names and dates, during the course of a reference interview. It can also help reference librarian to offer continuing support to several users who are working on different projects.
3.2.7 Communication Skills Reference librarian spends most of his/her time communicating with a wide variety of library users. This communication process can take place in person, on telephone, by e-mail, etc. In order to provide good reference service, he/she must possess good communication skills. With changing information resources so quickly, there is increasing need for such a reference librarian who can make presentations for his/her colleagues and training for his/her users. In order to promote library services, he/she must be able to write reports, or articles, or press releases, or provide content for library guides, pathfinders, in plain and understandable language. He//She can, while working with others, use his/her communication skills for self -improvement.
3.2.8 Patience It is suggested that reference librarian must have the quality of patience, as working with diverse group of users can be difficult. He/She has to maintain patience while dealing with not only difficult users but also some trouble makers. Thomsen suggests that whatever the circumstances, reference librarian has to continue to give the best possible service to users.
3.2.9 Creativity He/She can look at the problems from many angles, try different approaches, and think creatively to find the right answers. The reference librarian can use his/her creative abilities to find new ways and improve the existing reference and information services.
3.2.10 Accepts New Challenges and Opportunities Reference librarian should accept new opportunities and demonstrate that his/her knowledge and skills can solve a variety of information problems. He/She has to attempt to explore new ideas, products and services for his/her users. He/She helps in expanding the library collection beyond the traditional literature such as books and journals. The new challenges of the information age can be converted, with 11 his/her knowledge of adequate skills and competencies into the opportunities to create the library without walls in future. The competencies and skills as discussed above are, not restricted to reference librarians alone, but are for all the 21st century library and information professionals. These skills and competencies are rooted in the past of librarianship, but obviously they will take the profession far into the future because they are the basis for the continued survival and growth in this information age. From the above discussion, it can be said, to quote Thomsen: “Reference service is essentially personal service; its quality depends on the knowledge, skills, and personal traits of the person delivering that service.”
This Module discusses about the role of reference librarian in providing various types of reference and information services from the reference desk. The technological innovations have brought changes in the libraries in many ways. The available technology and the needs of an evolving information society have changed the information activities in libraries. This has brought a shift in the role of reference librarian as well. In dealing with the changes, the reference librarian needed to acquire new skills and competencies to understand knowledge resources, print and in electronic media, know the user needs well to provide them required services in time. It further discusses the various professional skills a reference librarian either acquires during his training in library science schools or develops while on the job. It also discusses some personal skills, knowledge, and competencies which he brings with him to the profession. These skills and competencies help him to be resourceful and become an effective reverence librarian.
5.1 True and False Statements
1. A reference librarian diagnoses and treats information deficiencies. True/False
2. A reference desk in a library is not a public service point. True/False
3. A reference librarian can also play a role in developing library collections. True/False
4. Professional skills can be learnt during education and training. True/False
5.2 Multiple Choice Questions
5. The reference/information desk is a….. (a) Counter (b) Single counter (c) Service counter (d) Public service counter
6. Library users can consult the staff at reference desk for help in finding…. (a) Materials (b) Book (c) Information (d) Document
7. Instructing the users in the way library is organized is called…. (a) User instruction (b)Advisory function (c) Guidance function (d) Assisting the users
5.3 Fill in the Blanks
8. The word reference in the context of library means providing………………………………… to library users.
9. Instructing the users in the ways of the library is a component of…………………………………
10. The two kinds of reference services based on time are……………………..…. and …………………………………… reference services.
11. The skills and competencies that can be enhanced during library science education and training are called as………. …………………………………….
12. …………………………….…… are those which an individual brings with him/her.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
C Competencies the abilities to know the resources, user needs and provide them the needed information.
R Reference desk a separate station/desk set up prominently in the most visible area to provide assistance/service to library users.
RE Reference librarian a person who plays the role of mediator between the user and the reference and information resources in a library.
REF Reference service it consists of personal assistance provided to users in pursuit of Information. S Skills a combination of knowledge, abilities, talent, traits, techniques, etc. that help a reference librarian to successfully answer diverse queries of users.
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Erlendsdottir, L. “New Technology, New Librarians.” Retrieved from http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/papers/b1/ans-1997
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