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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Report on the third official meeting - Jerusalem

Notes taken by:
Bodil Wöhnert
compiled by
Annsofie Oscarsson

The convenor of the Discussion Group on Reference Work, Annsofie Oscarsson, welcomed more than 150 participants to this 3rd official meeting. She reminded us of the broad scope of the DG, which covers all aspects of reference work in all types of libraries all over the world. As information gets more and more digitized we adapt our services to the electronic environment which also includes service to remote users via new technologies. Nevertheless, we must not forget the physical patron who personally visits our libraries and looks for both electronic and printed material. We also need to keep in mind that there are still libraries which are not as computerized as others. In other words our reality is serving both physical and virtual patrons, and we need to find the balance in between. How do we serve them both in the best way? Ms Oscarsson pointed out two issues to consider today:
  1. Is Internet the library of the future, and if so, what do we need to consider?
  2. How can we change the physical space in order to meet virtual needs?

The theme:

The discussion was based upon the following 5 papers published on IFLANET where the full text can be found:

Anne Lipow (director of Library Solutions Institute & Press, USA)
Moving the Reference Desk to the 24x7 World on the Web (only abstract available)

For many reasons users tend to prefer the easy accessible 24 hour services on the Internet over better but less accessible answers from the reference librarian. Therefore a new paradigm must be accepted: reference service must be quick and correct in order to maintain the library's role as the community's primary information resource. Here remote service plays an essential role.

The library must develop a service to the remote user by e-mail, interactive chat and networking with other libraries. The library must also restructure itself in order to change service according to the users' needs - this includes non- librarian functions.

The staff must be properly educated and payment for specialist service could be necessary.

It is important to separate:

  1. the walk-in service and the remote service
  2. the service to local users versus users from other communities
Ms Lipow introduced a project directed by The Library of Congress: Collaborative Digital Reference Service, a worldwide Internet reference service where professional librarians can participate.
Please visit the following web page for further information:

Elsa Barberena (UNAM, Mexico)
Your Guide to Bibliographical Information (about) Mexican Art

Mrs. Barberena - a former reference librarian now an information specialist on fine art - gave a presentation of her web site "ASKELSA" a digital information service where you can communicate with an expert. She pointed out the importance of the intervention by a librarian who "acts like a bridge that has the technology on one hand and the user at the other".
Ms Barberena also identified the following problems of the web that librarians should be aware of and participate in solving:

  1. Issue of providing and maintaining resources
  2. Shift of resources
  3. Not everything is available free on the net
  4. Fragility of the electronic network
  5. Quality control
  6. Need for evaluation of resources

Kalina Mühlfeld (director of the Department of European Documentation, Saxon State and University library, Dresden, Germany)
Reference Services to Users of European Union Information in a Networked Environment

Ms Mühlfeld described the organization of public information from the European Commission. This material includes both digitized and printed information and many aspects of how to provide access to these kinds of publications were discussed. The printed materials are listed in the library's online public access catalogue, but the traditional OPAC may not provide adequate access with regard to electronic information. The librarian may therefore have to rely on his knowledge of other EDC-internal formats such as CD-ROM or microfiche or of EDC-external sources such as various databases or the Internet. Ms Mühlfeld mentioned digital literacy and the new challenge of offering appropriate user education and training in the new digital technologies. The importance of providing electronic reference services and document delivery was emphasized and also the advantage of providing guided tours via the home page of the library. Finally Ms Mûhlfeld reminded us of some professional listserves within the EDC-sector which support EDC librarians on both national and international levels.

Carol A. Hughes (Questa Media, Houston, Texas, USA)
Building a Cheshire Cat: Physical Space for Virtual Needs

Mrs. Hughes described the reorganization of reference services at her former library University of Iowa Libraries and she pointed out the following issues that had been considered during that process:

  1. Users' needs prevail
  2. We must create attractive environments for the users: e.g. rove in the library to engage the user - and for that purpose it is necessary to use nomadic reference tools, such as laptop computers and WAP phones. Reference staff must get out from behind the desk. Remove the desk and create an environment "that reflects an ideal ubiquity, pro-activity, spontaneity and flexibility"
  3. Ready reference collection need no longer be anchored by a physical collection

The following paper was briefed by the convenor as unfortunately the author could not be present at this meeting.

Marianne Hummelshoj (Associate Professor at the Royal School of Library and Information Science, Aalborg, Denmark)
Do We Really Serve Our Users? - A Model for Evaluation and Development of Reference Services on the Internet

Evaluations of Danish library web sites demonstrate that the majority of services need to be improved. A model for development of services on public web sites published by the European Commission was described where four types of services were illustrated:

  • information services
  • value-adding services
  • communication services
  • transaction services
This model has been applied to surveys of reference services on websites in Denmark and is recommended in the continuous process of development. The author welcomes comments and experiences from colleagues all over the world. Please contact: mhd@db.dk

Themes from the discussion of the papers:

The changing nature of reference, which has effects on librarians both as professionals and human beings was the underlying theme. To quote one colleague from the US:

There is a need for redefining reference work, but some librarians are still traditional and do not want to change

Also the generations change in staff was considered:

Another problem is how to get young and inexperienced librarians involved (quot.)

Virtual and physical user

The end user was addressed in many aspects, both as a virtual user at the other end of the "line" and the patron of flesh and blood, coming into the library. Their different needs were considered and we were again reminded of the fact that we need to be flexible and learn to adapt to the changing information community at the same time that we must keep our traditional skills. An education program in California was mentioned: "Info People Program", where librarians are (re)educated to the new competencies needed. In this program the desk is also staffed with paraprofessional librarians who are especially trained in interviewing skills. The contact with the user must not be a confrontation but rather a meeting.

The users' needs "change the librarian" and the library service (quot.)

The need for user education and instruction was emphasized and especially the skills for using online information and services for remote users

Another aspect was that the users do not ask for help to the extent that they should, and actually the librarian should wear a "bother-me-sign".

The syndrome of the desk

The abolition of the huge reference desk of frequent occurrence, in favor of smaller information points and roving librarians was discussed. The importance of flexibility was emphasized and with regard to this, sitting at a desk is not an option. Rather it constitutes a barrier between the user and the librarian and could be an impediment to communication. As a complement to roving, one librarian believed, there will probably be some kind of a desk such as an express desk - a desk with more space around was mentioned. Another aspect was some kind of office, for referral of more complicated questions, e.g. the tiered model used at Brandeis University Library. A couple of examples were given where the reference desk had been abolished and librarians were more active "on the floor". Also someone mentioned that the reference librarian in one of the largest libraries in the US could be contacted via red phones placed all over the library.

There is evidently a change in progress and as one colleague remarked:

Change in the librarians' attitudes will come: take it one step at a time (quot.)

For further information about the Discussion Group on Reference Work, please visit the web page: http://archive.ifla.org/VII/dg/dgrw/index.htm

or contact: annsofie.oscarsson@ub.umu.se

Do we really serve our users ?
A model for evaluation and development of reference services on the Internet.

Marianne Hummelshoj, Associate Professor, MLI. Sci.
Royal School of Library and Information Science
Aalborg, Denmark
E-mail: mhh@db.dk


This paper presents a model for evaluating and developing reference services on library web-sites on the Internet. The model illustrates four types of services: Information services, value adding services, communication services and transaction services and is developed on the basis of a model for development of governmental web-sites presented in a publication from the European Commission in 1998. With the purpose of estimating the applicability of the model in the evaluation process, it has been applied to surveys of reference services on both research - and public libraries´ web-sites in Denmark. The conclusion was that the model is applicable to the evaluation of reference services in any type of library and could be the basis for development of services, as well. The model has been presented at a Nordic conference for research librarians in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 2000.


The question "do we really serve our users ? " may seem rather provocative to librarians who are working very hard to do so, but evaluations (Hummelshoj , 2000, Hummelshoj and Skovrup, 1998, Hummehoj and Gerner Nielsen, 2000) of library web-sites - however, demonstrate that the quality of the majority of services needs to be improved. The development of services on the library web-sites should be given very high priority and be considered as a continuous process parallel to the development of the traditional services. This is crucial because of the very competitive environment on the World Wide Web, and it could therefore be recommended both to learn from commercial sites, and to co-operate within the library sector in order to improve the web-sites and the services. However, how to do so is,- not the aim of this paper, instead my focus is on the importance and relevance of evaluation with the objective of contributing to the further development of services to the benefits of our users. The structure of library web-sites is very varied and difficulties are encountered in the efforts to carry out comparative evaluations of reference services, which indicate the requirement of applying a scheme or model to catch the different types of services. In the following I shall present a model, which appears to be easy to apprehend and to utilize.

The foundation of reference services

The foundation of reference services The definition of reference services is a precondition for evaluation of the services presented and for development, as well. Definitions are normally related to traditional reference services, e.g. Moore (1996) and Ferguson (1997), which stress that answering the users´ questions is the central reference service within libraries. However, the conditions in the networked environment demand changes of our services towards more self-services, which the users can rely on. Mackenzie Owen (1996) is focusing on what kind of services should be provided by libraries in a networked environment and he is attaching the importance of supporting the users in their use of information instead of their seeking of information. Appropriate methods for supporting the users are defined as:
  • Personal assistance
  • Help/support
  • Subject guides
  • Instruction
These methods are essential in the model for evaluation and development, presented and commented below.

Model for evaluation and development

The model is developed on the basis of a table in a publication from the European Commission (1998, p. 8.), which presents a typology of electronic government services.

Lists of links Thematic structure(browsing facility) Ask the librarian Reservations
  Search facility   Proposals for acquisition
  Help facilities   Registrations of memberships, etc.
  Language versions



Fig. 1 Model for evaluation and development of reference services on libraries' web-sites

Information services

These services are defined as services "to retrieve sorted and classified information on demand (e.g. WWW sites)" (European Commission, 1998, p. 8). As many libraries still have lists with unstructured links or any other kind of value added to the links, e.g. annotations, it appears to be more illustrative to distinguish between services, which present naked, unstructured links, and other services, which have been added various values, as seen below.

Value-adding services

The model focuses on the value-adding services in order to illustrate the work or expertise of the librarians/information specialists. These services are, however, not included in the model from The European Commission, but seem relevant from the users´ point of view, and crucial if "we really want to serve our users". The value-adding is not confined to the value, which is added to the links, but includes any kind of help, explanation or instruction to support the user. The following services in this category: Structure: The information may be presented in a variety of ways. In some cases the traditional classification system, used in the physical library would be a solution, but this is normally not comprehensible to users in general. Many libraries have developed a structure based on themes, e.g. 'life circles' (community information) or virtual libraries, which are used in a number of research or academic libraries in order to meet the information need of their target groups in a more comprehensible way. This supports the browsing potentials of the service to any user, as well. Search facility: As the size of the services increases, the demand for a search facility emerges with the purpose of offering an alternative access to the information content. This should, however, be developed in relation to comprehensive indexing of the entire site. Too many libraries neglect to do so with incomprehensible search results as the consequence.

Help facility: Browsing and searching facilities will normally meet the users´ demands and expectations, but help facilities for search, communication, and transaction, etc. is a necessary supplementation to unmediated services.

Annotations: Annotations added all presented information resources are traditionally a service which is most related to value-adding. Furthermore, they illustrate that the library has a policy of quality or other criteria for selection and a policy for mediation of the resources. A genuine annotation to an information resource consists of a description, an evaluation, and an instruction of use and is very resource consuming to elaborate. Cooperation between libraries (as seen in Denmark ) could be a solution.

Language versions: Even if they are not related to reference service alone, it is stressed- that any kind of service on the Internet should at least have an English version to be open to most users, but in addition it must be considered to develop more exotic language versions to meet the diversity of users in the community.

Instruction: Remote instruction of users' in the information searching process may be relevant adding to the services as a part of improvement of level of the users' ability to search and to evaluate the information resources.

Communication services

" to interact with individuals (private or corporate) or groups of people (e.g. via e-mail or discussion fora)." (European Commission, 1998, p. 8). In relation to libraries and especially reference services, the communication services represent primarily the mediated service or "ask the librarian", which it is often called and which is the essential of reference services. However, the evaluations demonstrate that many libraries think they offer this service by the e-mail address on their web-sites, but it can not be considered to be a real "ask the librarian " service without a formula for posing the question and additionally: a proper reference interview, as recommended by Abels (1996). Help facilities and an archive with answers are also recommendable and may be considered to be a useful service for the users and an effective way of promotion, as well. Some libraries have extended communication services, e.g. discussion fora, which enable individuals to discuss different subjects, which could be of interest within the local/regional community.

Transaction services

"to acquire products or services on-line or to submit data (e.g. government forms, voting)" (European Commission, 1998, p. 8). Transaction services or self-services are progressing concurrently with the modernisation of public administration and private companies, as well. These services are seen in libraries, especially in research libraries, as reservations, proposals for acquisition of books and periodicals, or inclusion of links, etc. These services are saving resources and should, therefore, be considered in the further development of web-sites. In the near future libraries will probably have links to a number of transaction services from other parts of the society, e.g. elections and referenda, as well.


Evaluations of reference services on library web-sites demonstrate the requirement for improving the quality of the majority of services, which appears low and insufficient and an impediment to promotion of the libraries in the competition with commercial information web-sites.

A model for development of services on public web-sites from The European Commission is applied and extended for library use. Each type of service is explained and commented. The model has been the basis for evaluations of both public and research libraries' websites and is recommended in the continuous process of development, as well, if "we really want to serve our users".


Abels, Eileen (1996) - The E-mail Reference Interview. RQ, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 345-358.

European Commission (1998) - Public Sector Information: A Key Resource for Europe. Green Paper on Public Sector Information in the Information Society. COM (1998) 585.

Ferguson, Chris D. and Charles A. Bunge (1997) - The Shape of Services to Come: Value-Based Reference Services for the Digital Library College and Research Libraries, vol. 58, no. 3, pp. 252-265.

Hummelshoj, Marianne (2000) - Referenceservices via Internet. En evaluerings- og udviklingsmodel. Paper presented at 'Referencearbejdet i det elektroniske miljø. Bibliotekar, bruger, betjening.' Reykjavik, Iceland 22nd-23th May, 2000. (Danish)

Hummelshoj, Marianne and Nanna Skovrup (1998) - En ny model for reference service i folkebiblioteker. Referencen, 28, no. 6, pp. 3-10. (Danish translation of paper, presented at 10th . NioD Conference, Turku, Finland, sept. 1998).

Hummelshoj, Marianne og Bo Gerner Nielsen (2000) - Folkebibliotekernes referenceservices på Internet ved starten af det nye årtusinde. Biblioteksarbejde, 20. no. 58, pp. 45-53. (Danish)

Moore, Audrey D. (1996)- Reference Librarianship: "It was the Best of Times, It Was...", Reference Librarian, no. 54, p. 3-10.

Mackenzie Owen, J.S. and A. Wiercx (1996) - Knowledge models for Networked Library Services. Final report. NBBI -Project Bureau for Information Management, Hague. . [Citation: 13.01.2000] Accessible on Internet: URL: http:www.nbbi.nl/kms/kmspage.html


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