An Introduction to Reference Services in Academic Libraries

Tibor Koltay (Szent István University, Jászberény, Hungary)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




Koltay, T. (2008), "An Introduction to Reference Services in Academic Libraries", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 64 No. 3, pp. 469-470.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

From the Preface we learn that this book is the first of a series of introductory textbooks written for graduate students of library and information science, entry‐level librarians and newcomers to academic librarianship.

The first part of the book consists of a collection of 11 case studies of different length by a number of different authors. The second part contains seven essays, also in the same fashion.

The case studies address a wide spectrum of issues, like a virtual information literacy tutorial, a library gaining leadership in academic computing services, transitioning from the just‐in‐case reference model to a just‐in‐time model. The problems related to the physical reference desk as a central issue figure even in two papers.

The case study on virtual reference looks like much more an essay than a case study. The paper entitled “Common queries” seems to be rather anecdotal.

On the whole, case studies in this book have differing weights. The one on the costs of reference is a thorough study that is crossing again the borders of the genre towards being an essay. The paper on customer surveys is short and to the point, just like you would imagine a case study that can be used efficiently in the classroom.

Despite the fact that its metaphoric title makes the intended purpose somewhat obscure, the paper “What they don't teach in library school: Experience is the real teacher” is one of those that are real textbook items in the sense that it is very useful (among others) for enlightening features of a successful reference interview.

If you want to choose the “best paper”, it is probably the one on developing information literacy. This particular paper (Case study 7, entitled “Occasional occurrences at Owl Creek University”) is a fictional one that also shows some humour and undoubtedly can serve as a good starting point of an educational discussion.

It is laudable that those case studies that seem to interest a smaller audience (like for example marketing reference to young male faculty in a small college) are accordingly shorter.

Part two of the book contains essays the majority of which address broad issues like the teaching centred vs. service centred nature, the meaning, past, present and future of reference, the role and situation of the academic librarian.

As a few other papers, the essay on coloured librarians shows that some issues addressed in the book have more relevance to American librarians than to their European colleagues. The faculty status and tenure‐track of academic librarians is a similar problem, however its author also cries out: I get no respect. This seems to be a problem for a host of librarians working in academe.

One may wonder if the order of papers could be much more carefully well‐weighted. Amidst a number of essays that reflect on fundamental questions another one on unusual library users appears. In top of that the latter is much more a small selection of case studies than an essay. If we think however that the papers can be used in themselves perhaps this is not of much importance.

There are exercises at the end of each paper. They have basically the same structure slightly adapted to the issue at hand. They are intended to engage the reader to summarise the main point of the paper for classmates or co‐workers, then rewrite this summary to an expert or administrator or fund‐raiser, to use role‐play in order to elucidate the problems and to find scholarly, authoritative sources on them. The exercises ask for agreement and disagreement of the reader as well as for their more detailed opinion.

There is an index of the authors and subjects at the end of the book.

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