Introduction to Reference Work in the Digital Age

William Foster (Professional Development Coordinator for Information and Library Management, School of Computing and Information, University of Central England, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




Foster, W. (2004), "Introduction to Reference Work in the Digital Age", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 281-282.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In the context of today's high‐tech, client‐focused information environments, the phrase “reference work” has a quaint, old‐fashioned ring about it. Most librarians though would still see reference work as the cornerstone of what their libraries provide, irrespective of what the current fashionable term for it might be. In this book the author provides his personal views on how reference work has developed historically, and how ICT developments are changing the way that it is considered and applied. In his introduction Janes says that he has written the book not only for students and those new to the profession, but also for experienced professionals. I doubt whether the latter group would derive very much from it, but for the former it provides, in a highly readable way, an introduction to what reference work is and how the coming of the Web has changed the nature of reference work for both librarians and their customers.

The book is divided into six main chapters, each quite long for a book with only 213 pages, and their titles are not always informative. Chapter six, for example, is entitled: “Making it work: creating and institutionalising a service” but it is really only a ten‐step plan to providing a reference service. The earlier chapters focus on such topics as user needs, exploiting ICT for reference services and staff development.

The final chapter is rather fancifully entitled “Syncope” and contains the author's concluding words on the subject. In this he rather grandly and ambitiously says that “aims to lay out a vision for how services might be reconceptualized”. However I don't really believe that he has done that, but throughout the book he raises a lot of issues and at the end of each chapter there are questions for review, which might be useful for student seminars. Being a personal perspective, it is less focused on the subject in some places than it might be, and it can't really be used as the main textbook for modules on the subject.

Nevertheless, Janes offers a fresh perspective on the subject and has got the balance about right in terms of reflecting on the traditional nature of reference work and the changes brought about by technology. Also, unlike a number of books of this type, it isn't overburdened with examples from the United States. I would certainly recommend it to my students at the start of their course as an introduction to the subject.

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