In a 31‐month period, 1,184 questions addressed to the Internet Public Library's (IPL) reference service remained unanswered on the grounds that they were “out of scope”. This paper aims to analyze the questions as artifacts of users' expectations to better chart the distinction between user and librarian views of reference service.
Each question is examined to identify two user expectations, i.e. what kinds of information librarians could provide and what kinds of needs librarians could help meet. Emergent coding with a code‐recode rate of 97 per cent identifies 23 types of expected librarian assistance and 28 characteristics of expected applications of that assistance.
Users expect IPL librarians to provide personal advice, analysis, facts, procedures, instruction, technology guidance and evaluation. IPL librarians are expected to help users in making decisions, solving problems, completing processes and developing understanding.
Limitations include the use of a single coder and the use of single institution's data set. Mapping these user expectations suggests a need for librarians to consider further development of reference service in terms of its judgment, form, and involvement parameters.
Reference service policies and training should be examined to enhance librarians' abilities to consider judgment, form, and involvement parameters primarily from the user's perspective.
This paper analyzes that which is rarely seen, i.e. e‐mail reference questions which are considered beyond the scope of service. Additionally, the IPL question pool provides a broader range of user mental models than would be found in any geographically bound institution.
CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited