Monday, September 27, 2010

Introduction to reference: The Reference interview

I know you believe you understand what you think I said –

But I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I said.

Reference Interview: Definition
A conversation between reference staff and patron in which staff person asks questions in order to:
  • get a clear more complete picture of what patron really want to know, and to
  • link patron to the system or other appropriate resource
Communication barriers
Why don’t people ask for precisely what they want?
  • May not be sure if they are approaching the right person to ask
  • may not be sure what it is they want
  • may not feel at ease in asking the question – English may not be their first language, they may be embarrassed
  • May feel question is too sensitive
  • don’t want to reveal reason for needing info
  • lack knowledge of depth and quality of collection
  • lack knowledge of reference tools available
  • lack confidence in ability of reference staff
The initial question
The patron’s first question is just their way of opening the conversation to determine if
  • she is in the right place
  • you are available and listening to her
  • you are the appropriate person to ask for help
  • you can help her with her problem
Interview Microskills
  • Practice acknowledgement
    o Restate content of patron’s statement. Acknowledge you heard their question.
    o use encouragers to indicate that you are interested and listening, e.g. nod
    o Ask open questions. Expand their request.
    o Avoid premature diagnosis. Don’t judge to conclusions.
    o Practice closure, e.g. when conversation getting off-track bring it back tactfully e.g. “That’s interesting, but tell me now about…”
Active listening
  • show that you’re paying attention
  • Involves paraphrasing (restating) the patron’s question. Understand
  • Want patron to affirm, deny, or revise and confirm what you restated.
  • restating things make patron see you are sympathetic to their concern
  • Since many patrons shy from answering straight-forward questions, active listening allows patrons to correct or acknowledge statements rather than answer ones that seem nosy.
  • Patron says: “I’m having trouble with the OPAC.”
  • Reference person translates to: “They can’t find what they need” and responds: “You can’t find what you want in the OPAC?”
  • patron responds: “I’ve forgotten how to use it”
    Feeds back – what do you think they’re looking for?
  • It sounds like
  • So you think
  • You’re saying
  • You mean
  • As you see it
  • As I understand you

    When paraphrasing:
  • Be concise. Don’t go on forever.
  • Feed back the essence
  • don’t add to or change the meaning
  • avoid sounding like a parrot
  • use a checkout if called for such as:
    o Is that how you see it?
    o did I get it right?

    Closed questions
  • yes/no response
  • this/that response
  • Is this for a project?
  • Do you want American or Canadian authors?
  • What if the user wants an Australian author?
  • Or, what if the query is not related to a school project?

    Open questions
  • questions that cannot be answered with yes or no or this or that, e.g
  • What would you like to know about…? this forces a response
  • What sort of things are you looking for?
  • Please tell me more about that.
  • Give me an example.
  • What else can you tell me about…? The patron may say something to clarify what they’re looking for.
  • Perhaps if you tell me more about your topic, I could make some suggestions.
  • allows users to respond in their own words
  • do not limit answers to the narrow range of choices presented by the closed questions
  • questions are invitations to talk
  • may result in conversation that is irrelevant as well as relevant to the interview

    Information needs
    Three components

    • situation
    o What has caused the question to be asked?
    • gaps
    o What don’t you know? Why do you want to know?
    • uses
    Each user has different questions or gaps in his/her understanding of the question.
People can almost always describe the type of help they would like or what they plan to do with the information.

neutral questioning
A strategy for conducting the reference interview to allow reference worker to understand the question from the patron’s point of view.

  • Be open
  • Tap the patron’s situation or gap or use
  • Avoid assumptions
Neutral questioning strategy directs the reference staffer to learn from the user the nature of the underlying situation, the gaps faced, and the expected uses

Open in form and structured in content so that the user is invited to talk about specific elements (situations, gaps, uses)

User oriented rather than system-oriented

Sample neutral questions

To find out how person sees situation:
  • What aspect of this situation concerns you?
  • What problem are you having in this situation?
  • Where would you like to begin?
  • Where do you see yourself going with this?
  • What happened that got you stopped?

    To assess the gaps:
  • What seems to be missing in your understanding of “x”?
  • What would you like to know about “x”?
  • What are you trying to understand?

    To assess the kind of help wanted (uses):
  • If you could have exactly the help you want, what would it be?
  • What would help you?
  • How would this help you?
  • How do you plan to use this info?
  • What would you like to see happen in this situation?
  • What are you trying to do in this situation?
Questions asked will depend on the situation.

Do you have anything which gives more details about large corporations?
Do you want annual reports? What sort of details do you want?If you could tell me the kind of problem you're working on, I'll have a better idea of what would help you.
Are these national or international companies? What do you mean by large?What would you like to know about large companies?
Are you looking for a particular company?What corporations are you interested in? Tell me a bit about how you plan to use this information.
Six common causes of communication accidents
  1. Not acknowledging user
    a. acknowledge by eye contact, gestures, restarting initial question
  2. not listening
    a. practice active listening
    b. Pause or use an encourager, e.g. Uh-huh; I see; Go on; that’s interesting; Then? Tell me more; anything else? Can you give me an example?
  3. Playing 20 questions
    an open or neutral question such as “what would you like to know about…?” will get you further in less time
  4. interrupting at inappropriate times
    use closure to direct the conversation and pauses or encouragers to signal user it’s their time to talk
  5. making assumptions
    Assumptions based on user’s appearance or your perception of problem are often inaccurate
    avoid premature diagnosis and ask neutral questions instead
  6. Not following up
    ask a follow-up question, e.g. “Did that help you?”
Guidelines for "why"
  1. Avoid asking "why" directly.
    Don't be nosy. "Why" occurs as a neutral question.
  2. Make it clear that you are asking this question because you can be more helpful if you know intended uses
  3. Avoid assumptions. Guessing is often inefficient and sometimes can be offensive when you guess wrong.
    Leave the patron in control.
  4. AskInstead of
    What can I help you with today?Can I help you?
    What have you done so far?Have you looked in the catalogue?
    What would you like to know about "x"?Do you want to know about "a" or "b"?
    What kind of help would you like?Do you want me to do "c"?
    What else can you tell me about "X"?Is this it? Is that it?

    Guidelines for behavioral performance
    1. approachability
    2. interest
    3. listening/inquiring
    4. searching
    5. follow-up
    The 55% rule
    • “Research” and incidental studies found that about 55% of reference queries are correctly answered. (dubbed the 55% rule by Hernon and McClure in their 1986 article in LJ)
    • Richardson & John dispute this figure in their 2002 article in LJ “Reference is Better than We Thought”.
    In 90% of cases “A panel of reference experts determined that librarians recommended an accurate source or an accurate strategy”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Introduction to reference: Specialized information sources

Statistics Canada
A wide variety of resources are available from Statistics Canada; these include:

2001 Census

Canadian Statistics
A small collection of Canadian social and macroeconomic statistics: key monthly and quarterly measures of economic performance, annual economic data, land area, plant and animal life, and environment, population traits and trends, education, culture, health, government finances, employment, justice, and elections.

Statistic Canada’s socio-economic database. Online resource for Canadian socio-economic statistics on labor, health, income, trade, education, manufacturing, investment and more. By subscription or pay online by credit card.

Latest news from Statistics Canada. Includes access to the most recent releases from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Free Internet Publications
Hyper linked listing from Statistics Canada.

Interactive learning tool designed with the needs and interests of the education community in mind. Uses over 1,800 tables from CANISM to track trends in virtually every aspect of the lives of Canadians. Updated once a year during the summer. Students can access selected articles from Statistics Canada publications such as the Canada Year Book, Canadian social trends, Health reports, Human activity and the environment, criminal justice indicators and many others.

Historical Statistics of Canada (2nd edition, 1983)
Contains about 1,088 statistical tables on the social, economic and institutional conditions of Canada from the start of the Confederation in 1867 to the mid-1970s.

Infomat: A Weekly Review
Contains highlights of Statistic Canada reports, summary of latest monthly statistics, charts, and a list of recently released Statistics Canada publications.

Standard Classifications in Use at Statistics Canada

Standard Industry Classifications
Includes, among others:

North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)

Standard Industrial Classification (SIC 1980)

Standard Occupational Classifications
Includes, among others:

National Occupational Classification – Statistics (NOC-S), 2001

Standard Occupational Classification (SOC 1991)

Statistical Profile of Canadian Communities
This site contains information from the 1996 Census of Population. These profiles contain free information for all Canadian communities (cities, towns, villages, Indian Reserves and Settlements, etc.) for metropolitan areas and for health regions. A mapping feature is also provided. 2001 Census data for the 2001 Community Profiles will be available as they are released.

Provincial and territorial web pages/agencies providing statistics

• Alberta

• British Columbia

• Manitoba

• New Brunswick

• Newfoundland

• Northwest Territories

• Nova Scotia

• Nunavut

• Ontario

• Prince Edward Island

• Quebec

• Saskatchewan

• Yukon

Canadian Council on Social Development
Statistics on poverty, welfare, income, etc.

Other countries & miscellaneous sources
There are many sites offering access to data and data resources on the Net. Here are just a few.

Statistical office of the European Community.

Population Reference Bureau (formerly AmeriStat)
Developed by the PRB in partnership with demographer Bill Frey and his colleagues at the University of Michigan’s Social Science Data Analysis Network. AmeriStat gives you instant summaries – in graphics and text - of the demographic characteristics of the U.S. population.

Excellent starting point for U.S. federal-and-state-level statistics.

United Nations. Statistics Division.
Links to national and international statistical agencies and commissions.

OFFSTATS: Official Statistics on the Web
“OFFSTATS lists web sites offering free and easily accessible social, economic and general data from official or similar ‘quotable’ sources, especially those that provide both current data and time series. In the country lists, these are mainly web pages provided by statistical offices, central banks and government departments and agencies, whereas the topic list is comprised of links to the statistics pages of international organizations and associations and a few commercial sites.”

Statistical Abstract of the United Nations
Offers a vast collection of statistics on social and economic conditions in the United States.

Statistical Resources on the Web
Comprehensive, annotated directory of the best resources for statistics on the Web. Maintained by Grace York, governments documents librarian at the University of Michigan.

WHO Global Health Observatory (GHO)
Guide to health and health-related epidemiological and statistical information available from the World Health Organization.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Introduction to reference: Government sources

Government documents or publications are produced in various formats by governments and international bodies from around the world. Documents produced by governments include various types of ready reference materials such as handbooks, directories, atlases, and bibliographies plus materials unique to government such as debates, bills, and statues.

Over the years, North American libraries have played a significant part in providing access to government documents. Both Canada and the United States have established depository library programs. These programs ensure that designated libraries receive free copies of selected government publications. Some provinces and states also have depository programs.

The Canadian federal Depository Services Program, or DSP, was established in 1927. Its primary objective is to ensure that Canadians have ready and equal access to federal government information. The DSP achieves this objective by supplying these materials to a network of more than 790 libraries in Canada and to another 147 institutions around the world holding collections of Canadian government publications.

Today, the DSP is an arrangement with some 680 public and academic libraries to house, catalogue and provide reference services for the federal government publications they acquire under the program. These depositories must make their DSP collections available to all Canadians and for interlibrary loans. Currently fifty-two full depository libraries automatically receive documents listed by the DSP. Due to their special information mandates, the National Library and the Library of Parliament also receive copies of each publication. The balance of the depository libraries are selective and choose only those publications that meet the needs of their clients. A list of selective and full depository libraries can be found at

In order to make Manitoba government publications more accessible to the people of Manitoba, the Manitoba Legislative Library operates a provincial depository system in which eight libraries throughout the province automatically receive current Manitoba government publications. (For a list of participating libraries see As of September 2010, the Manitoba Legislative Library is no longer providing paper copies of provincial government publications due to the rise in postage costs. The majority of publications are available online for access. The National Library of Canada continues to receive Manitoba government publications for their collection.

In the last few years, governments have been moving many of their documents to electronic formats in an effort to reduce print costs, respond to growing demand from users for electronic formats which provide several advantages over print documents, and improve access to and the availability of publications for those with the technology to use these formats. While the move to electronic distribution may mean fewer print documents, libraries will still play a critical role in providing access, particularly for those without computers.

It is important for you to have a general knowledge about government publications so you can provide patrons with good service. Where libraries have extensive collections of government publications it is not unusual to have separate government documents collections organized according to special classification systems. Sometimes there will also be staff with special expertise in dealing with government documents. Where a patron’s need is beyond the scope of general information it may be necessary to call on their services.

Useful places to keep abreast of government documents being produced include:

The Weekly Checklist [Canadian Federal publications]
The Weekly Checklist is produced each week by the Depository Services Program. Every Checklist includes a listing of book and serial titles which have been released during the week by the Parliament of Canada, federal departments, and Statistics Canada.

Depository institutions use the Checklist to order publications for their collections, but non depository institutions will discover that the Checklist provides an excellent guide to free and priced Canadian government documents.

Government of Canada Publications
The Government of Canada Publications web site provides a single window access to free and priced publications authored by Government of Canada departments. The database does not have every publication published from all departments. It does, however, have over 100,000 publications listed and this number is increasing on a daily basis.

Not all publications listed are available for ordering through this site. Some publications are out of print or are only distributed through the author department.

Manitoba Government Publications Monthly Checklist
The Checklist, compiled and published monthly, includes Manitoba government publications received during the month by the Manitoba Legislative Library under its deposit requirement with all provincial government departments and agencies.

In each Checklist, departments with their branches and subdivisions as well as boards, committees and other agencies are listed in alphabetical order under the minister to whom they report. All publications are listed under the issuing body.

Order each Checklist items marked with an asterisk through Statutory Publications Branch. Requests for other items should be directed to the issuing department or agency.

Provincial Publications. Federal Publications Inc.
There is no central location at which one may obtain documents from all provincial governments. Those wishing to acquire provincial publications must contact the government bookstore in each individual province or territory. This site provides addresses, telephone numbers and website links for each provincial outlet.

Catalog of U.S. Government Publications
The Catalog of U.S. Government publications provides an index to print and electronic publications created by Federal agencies. When available, links are provided to the full-text of these publications. Coverage begins with January 1994. New records are added daily.

U.S. Government Online Bookstore
The official online bookstore for U.S. Government publications available for purchase from the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Other sources

Canon, Anita. Canadian Government Information on the Internet (CGII).
Comprehensive listing of sources for all levels of government including local government.

Foreign Government Resources on the Web. University of Michigan Documents Center.
Includes a collection of links to foreign government information on the Web. Countries are organized by geographic area with a vast array of internet resources including country background, biographies of officials, foreign policy, human rights, national symbols, constitutions, laws, treaties, embassies, foreign news sources, demographic statistics, economics, health, etc.

“Government Publications.” The AcqWeb Directory.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Just the facts: a look at almanacs

by Christine Bulson

Encyclopaedia Britannica Almanac, 2003. 2002. 1,184 p. Encyclopaedia Britannica, $19.95 (0-85229-833-1); paper, $10.95 (0-85229-923-0).

The New York Times Almanac, 2003. By John W. Wright. 2002. 998 p. Penguin, paper, $11.95 (0-14-200169-4).

Time Almanac, 2003: With Information Please. Ed. by Borgia Brunner. 2002. 1,039 p. Time, $31.95 (1-929049-87-0); paper, $10.99 (1-929049-95-1).

The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2003. By Ken Park. 2002. 1,002 p. World Almanac Educational, $31.95 (0-88687-883-7); paper ($11.95 (0-88687-882-9).

Almanacs have long been a staple of the library’s ready-reference shelf. This year the traditional almanac field of three (The New York Times Almanac, Time Almanac [formerly Information Please], and The World Almanac and Book of Facts) is joined by Encyclopaedia Britannica Almanac.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts is the grande dame, with a first publication in 1868 and published annually since 1886. Time Almanac began as the Information Please Almanac in 1947 with a title change in 1999 when the company, now part of the Family Education Network, teamed with Time, Inc., publishers of Time magazine, to produce a “new” almanac. The origin of this almanac was a radio show, “Information, Please” that aired from 1938 to 1952, where listeners tried to stump panelists. The title is now Time Almanac: With Information Please, reflecting the participating publishers. The New York Times Almanac evolved from the Universal Almanac, which began publication in 1990 and was discontinued in 1997. The editor, John Wright, who owned the rights to the content, convinced the newspaper to join with him to publish another “new” almanac.

Publishers say the Internet age has not diminished the popularity of almanacs in print form. World now sells more than one million volumes annually. And reference librarians still consider the print version of an almanac a favorite source for concise, current, quick information.

It is interesting to compare the basics contents of almanacs. For an eternity (or so it seemed) the index of World was in the front. This year it is at the end of the volume! The Time index was in the back until 1987, when it was moved to the front, where it remains. Both of the other almanacs have the index at the end. All four have some type of table of contents in the front. Time’s is a keyword and section index. A block of color pictures reflecting the events of the previous year appears in all of the almanacs except The New York Times. A variety of colored maps are in all the volumes, and country flags are in all except The New York Times. The arrangement of topics is similar at least in the front, with all the almanacs starting with news of the year, top ten news stories, or late-breaking news. Although all of the almanacs have the year 2003 in the title, the usual cut off date is late October. The New York Times and Time include results of the 2002 elections, and these two and World include Nobel recipients for 2002. However, Britannica includes events only through June 2002.

Britannica and World have the best selection of recommended Web sites arranged by broad subjects. Britannica and The New York Times have a list of airlines by on-time performance. Each almanac has a section on the countries of the world, with all giving the percentage of Arabs in Lebanon as 95 percent except Britannica, which gives a figure of 93 percent from 1996. Britannica is the only almanac that does not have a section on major cities in the U.S. Time is the only one that lists percentages by sex (48.1 percent of the population in Boston is men). Two of the almanacs (Britannica and Time) use 2000 population figures for the U.S.; the other two use 2001 estimates. Only The New York Times does not include a section on inventions. A list of U.S. colleges and universities is considered a necessary inclusion by this reviewer but is found only in Time and World. The Time list is less useful because the colleges are only listed by state.

What are the pluses and minuses for each almanac? Britannica capitalizes on it’s publisher’s reputation and has a number of “greats” chosen by the editors – authors, inventions, Web sites, films, orchestras, and the most influential leaders of all times. There are also a number of “Did You Know” boxes, including the facts that windshield wipers and laser printers were invented by women. In addition to colored maps of the world, a locator map accompanies each country description. Essays similar to what can be found in an encyclopedia treat lighthouses, several diseases, and a number of other topics. The minus for this almanac is the relative lack of currency.

The New York Times is the least attractive almanac, with narrow margins, thin paper, and lots of text. There are excerpts from articles from the newspaper in some sections (“Time in Focus”) and seven pages of statistics on immigration in the U.S. Time has some unique features, such as “Seventy-five Years of Great People” – Time magazine’s persons of the year. Association with the magazine is stressed in other ways, with an introduction to each topic written by a Time reporter. There is a crossword puzzle guide with lists of words by number of letter s, Old Testament names, etc.

The World Almanac certainly has name recognition and has sold more than 80 million copies since 1868. In the last five years “Quick Quiz” and “It’s a Fact” boxes have been added, and there are annual special features – “The Elderly” and seven fact-filled pages on all aspects of terrorism can be found in this year’s edition. Trivia still abounds, with statistics on vehicle miles per licensed driver by state, a transplant waiting list by type of organ, the harness horse of the year from 1947 to 2001, and the components of the Dow Jones Averages as of last fall.

The price, size, and number pages for each almanac are about equal, so which is best? Of course all reviewers (see any online bookstore) have their personal preferences based on their interests, eyesight, etc., but this reviewer-librarian still chooses The World Almanac and Book of Facts as number one in terms of coverage, currency, and usability, with Time Almanac providing serious competition.

Christine Bulson recently retired from Milne Library, SUNY Oneonta, New York.

(Booklist/May 15, 2003)