The Human Side of Reference and Information Services in Academic Libraries: Adding Value in the Digital World

Suzie Kitchin (Learning Support Librarian, Durham University, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 25 July 2008




Kitchin, S. (2008), "The Human Side of Reference and Information Services in Academic Libraries: Adding Value in the Digital World", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 320-322.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book is part of a new series by Chandos on current professional thinking, aimed at the “busy information professional”. Chapters cover reference and information services in relation to information behaviour, staffing, resources, physical access, intellectual access and evaluation. The chapter headings all begin with “Technology impact on … ”, which feels a bit at odds with the title of the book which suggests it focuses on the human aspect of information services. This also slows down the reader's ability to skim the contents list for the most pertinent chapter for them.

The book covers a broad range of library services and how technology has impacted on these services. Yet again, the emphasis often feels to be more on the technology than the human element, making one feel the book title is misleading. The introduction states the book was written as a university library case study and this is evident throughout the book, particularly in the use of American terminology which British readers may find a bit off‐putting. It claims to offer global implications beyond this remit, but this often feels like a paragraph tacked onto the end of a chapter, and it may have been better for the authors to exclude this as it is not given sufficient attention.

The book highlights that libraries must embrace technology, deciding on the most appropriate technology for each situation, remembering to keep the client as the key focus. The “Millennial” generation is described as those born since the early 1980s and typical information‐seeking behaviour, outlined as wanting information delivered quickly and to be accessible from anywhere, not appreciating that research takes time, and being satisfied with “good enough” information found via search engines. It is helpful that the authors highlight user behaviour as observed by librarians, and to promote understanding of this as a way forward in collaborating with lecturers to tackle the challenges this presents.

Appropriate emphasis is given to the need for librarians to acknowledge where these users are coming from and to work with this. At the same time, acknowledgement is given to the fact that each library's user group remains diverse and librarians must recognise this in their development of services. Consideration is given to intellectual access to information and the services that libraries can use technology to aid this. Such services include wikis, personal response systems, virtual tours and podcasts.

A particularly useful chapter for managers is about staffing being the greatest expenditure of libraries and the challenge that changing technology has on staff recruitment and development. Library staff are increasingly expected to have broader technological skills and to be prepared to learn new skills, with increasing interdependence between librarians and support staff. The challenges this presents when recruiting staff are helpfully outlined, including the search for staff with adaptability and willingness to change as required.

The chapter on resources stresses the key to finding the “right” information rather than just finding information, with the increasingly wide range of resources available to users. The authors describe the lifecycle management of digital resources and selection criteria, which include ease of use, licensing agreements and accessibility. Due to the cost of many electronic resources they draw attention to the need to exploit the resources fully. This is followed by a chapter on how information is packaged and the role librarians can play in adding value to the service in the form of webliographies, current awareness services, interpretation, advocacy and digitisation. The role librarians can play in collaborating with faculty staff is highlighted as a crucial way that appropriate information can be featured at appropriate points in the curriculum. As such, these chapters are suitable for all levels of library staff, be it those managing services or just for contextual information.

The final chapter concentrates on the need for the ongoing service evaluation. The author points out the challenge of assessing the overall impact on library services in supporting the institution's mission, so suggests this can be made more manageable by looking at each element individually. This may involve using formal and informal methods, looking at inputs such as resources, and outputs such as information literacy knowledge. Identifying the library's unique selling point can be key to evaluating and promoting your services.

So whilst the way the book has been packaged is a disappointment, with seemingly conflicting book title versus chapter headings, and may be misleading to a prospective purchaser, much of the content is relevant to today's library services. Aspects covered on how technology is changing expectations of staff and ways in which value‐added services can be developed are usefully addressed.

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