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Transforming the rational perspective on skill development: The Dreyfus model in library reference work

Advances in Library Administration and Organization

ISBN: 978-0-7623-1488-1, eISBN: 978-1-84950-528-4

Publication date: 3 June 2008


This study investigated the skill development of academic reference librarians. It has been assumed that skill develops over time through experience, yet workplace competencies are currently described without reference to level of expertise. Drawing on the literature of occupational sociology, the Dreyfus model is an experiential, developmental model rather than a trait or talent model, allowing the holistic exploration of skill change through analysis of reference situations as contextualized and social phenomena. Three aspects of change in skill level were investigated: the shift from reliance on rules and abstract principles to the use of real experience to guide action; the growth in ability to discern relevant information from noise in complex situations; and the increase in engaged, involved performance out of initial detachment. Analysis of interview narratives with 17 reference librarians and two reference assistants suggests that the Dreyfus model is applicable to reference skill development with some differences. Skill characteristics were discerned at four levels: beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. Observed skill criteria in the narratives were used to reorganize the mixed skill levels presented in the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians.


Sweeney, J.K. (2008), "Transforming the rational perspective on skill development: The Dreyfus model in library reference work", Garten, E.D., Williams, D.E., Nyce, J.M. and Golden, J. (Ed.) Advances in Library Administration and Organization (Advances in Library Administration and Organization, Vol. 26), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 1-39.



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