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ARL instruction librarians and the one-box: a follow-up study

Ellen L. Rubenstein (University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA)
Cheryl McCain (University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA)
Kristal S. Boulden (University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 14 August 2017




The effectiveness and usability of one-boxes have been subjects of much research and debate, as librarians have worked to evaluate and improve the tools’ effectiveness and functionality. As one-box technologies change and improve over time, librarians must learn to navigate their new features and limitations. This paper aims to report the results of a study that sought to determine whether or not one-box teaching practices and philosophies of librarians of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) changed between the fall of 2011 and the spring of 2016.


This study was conducted using the same survey questions that were sent to ARL instruction and reference librarians in October of 2011. The survey was e-mailed to the same librarians who responded to the original survey. Questions focused on how librarians use the one-box during instructional opportunities and their overall opinions on the one-box as an option.


There were similarities between the two studies in that librarians agreed that one-box search tools tended to be beneficial for novices as an entrée into library resources but not as valuable for significant research. Librarians also noted the need for improvement in the results and felt that the products did not live up to their hype. There was a slight shift from negative opinions to more neutral opinions, indicating that some librarians have become more accepting of the tool. This shift may reflect a gradual change that suggests that librarians have become more comfortable with or accustomed to the presence of the one-box and its features.

Research limitations/implications

Although this follow-up study was sent to all participants who had responded to the first study, fewer than 25 per cent of the original number responded to the survey in 2016.


This is the first study to examine the shift in practices and philosophies over the past five years of a select group of reference and instruction librarians.



Rubenstein, E.L., McCain, C. and Boulden, K.S. (2017), "ARL instruction librarians and the one-box: a follow-up study", Reference Services Review, Vol. 45 No. 3, pp. 368-381.



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