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Re-conceiving time in reference and information services work: a qualitative secondary analysis

Jenny Bossaller (School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA)
Christopher Sean Burns (School of Information Science, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, USA)
Amy VanScoy (Department of Library and Information Studies, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 9 January 2017




The purpose of this paper is to use the sociology of time to understand how time is perceived by academic librarians who provide reference and information service (RIS).


This study is a qualitative secondary analysis (QSA) of two phenomenological studies about the experience of RIS in academic libraries. The authors used QSA to re-analyze the interview transcripts to develop themes related to the perception of time.


Three themes about the experience of time in RIS work were identified. Participants experience time as discrete, bounded moments but sometimes experience threads through these moments that provide continuity, time is framed as a commodity that weighs on the value of the profession, and time plays an integral part of participants’ narratives and professional identities.

Research limitations/implications

Given that the initial consent processes vary across organizations and types of studies, the researchers felt ethically compelled to share only excerpts from each study’s data, rather than the entire data set, with others on the research team. Future qualitative studies should consider the potential for secondary analysis and build data management and sharing plans into the initial study design.

Practical implications

Most discussions of time in the literature are presented as a metric – time to answer a query, time to conduct a task – The authors offer a more holistic understanding of time and its relationship to professional work.

Social implications

The methodology taken in this paper makes sense of the experiences of work in RIS for librarians. It identifies commonalities between the experience of time and work for RIS professionals and those of other professionals, such as physicians and software engineers. It suggests revising models for RIS, as well as some professional values.


This paper contributes a better understanding of time, understudied as a phenomenon that is experienced or perceived, among RISs providers in academic libraries. The use of secondary qualitative analysis is an important methodological contribution to library and information science studies.



An early draft of this paper was presented at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science/L’Association Canadienne des Sciences de L’information (CAIS/ACSI)[1]. The authors express their gratitude for the feedback received at this presentation as well as for the feedback received from the reviewers at this journal.


Bossaller, J., Burns, C.S. and VanScoy, A. (2017), "Re-conceiving time in reference and information services work: a qualitative secondary analysis", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 73 No. 1, pp. 2-17.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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