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Special Interest Group Archive: Reference 07/18/2018

These are the notes from meetings dating back to 2015.



  • Print vs. Online Reference
  • Statistics
  • Tracking and assessing reference questions

Review last meeting:

1st Nov 2017: What is reference? Common questions at many libraries. What is it to us in different environments (public, academic, medical, special etc.) Mostly public and academic that have come to the SIG. Discussed possible topics and what we’d like to get out of group.

2nd Mar 2018: Marketing services. Promoting resources and outreach. General discussion on the future and value of reference. Roving reference vs interrupting.

Findings: All come from very different libraries. Not going for consensus but sharing ideas.

What kind of issues do we face when it comes to print reference:

Limited space in libraries. Space devoted to reference collections could be used for other purposes. Academic libraries students want space to collaborate not necessarily research. Space is our number one commodity.

Students don’t use print reference. How to quantify usage of items that don’t circulate.

Expense of reference materials. Spending money on reference materials that may become outdated quickly.

What to keep and what not to keep? What should be in library use only and what can circ?

The scope of reference publishing is dwindling. More and more is going online.

Non-ref print heavily used. Benefit of circulating traditional reference.

Students in academic libraries would prefer to access library materials online.

Inter filing reference materials.

In some cases duplication of reference materials in circulating collection.

What about local history materials? Do some libraries let local history materials circulate? Most kept like reference materials (non-circulating), or kept in special area where use is supervised.

Move to digitize materials for public to access from home but only select materials have been digitized so far. Librarians can see what other cultural institutions have already digitized and have links to those digital materials in catalog. This way they avoid redundant work. 

Print reference only really gets used if patrons are directed to it. Or if a professor says these books need to be used.

At academic libraries professors have say over whether materials are reference or circulating.

ILL requests for reference materials are difficult to process, because traditionally they don’t get lent out, but otherwise they would just be sitting on the shelf unused. Materials can be switched to circulating to fill ILL requests. Haven’t been instances of reference materials lost thus far.

Why aren’t we weeding? Time/labor intensive. Difficulty assessing value of materials.

Could library systems centralize reference collections. There are logistical and financial difficulties with transportation of materials, and there are already partnerships with academic and special libraries.

Some libraries make weeding decisions based on whether materials are available through ILL.

Better World Books used to take books from heavy weeding projects. Also used to take unwanted donated materials.

The public or faculty can find weeding projects/empty shelves distressing.

Do staff members know how to use print reference materials? Library science programs are changing and there are generational differences. In academic librarians are familiar with their sections. In public libraries where materials aren’t frequently used librarians don’t know how to use them.

Some communities use reference services more than others.

Customer service and expectations of quick and efficient reference interactions. Libguides are helpful for these situations.

Staff guide patrons to subscription databases. Some question whether we’re pushing resources on people because we’ve spent money on them, when there are authoritative sources online available for free.

Dearth of marketing research anticipating patrons use of collections and patrons information needs

Future of print reference seems to be going online.

Academic and public point students to Credo reference frequently, because it’s a great resource. Credo aggregates reference materials.

Using shelf readers to promote reference databases, and books.

Ideas to boost reference services (ideas from last meeting and this meeting)

  • Sometimes teachers offer extra credits to student.
  • Synchronicity with programming to promote books. Putting books out at programming.
  • Instructional sessions for students or patrons.
  • Social media to promote reference sources.
  • Presentations to Small Business Associations or Community Organizations (Reference USA)
  • Word of mouth
  • Libguides that highlight reference sources

Do libraries have reference desks still? Some libraries have one service desk for everything, embedded librarianship, librarians provide one on one reference assistance by walk in request or by appointment. Chat reference services. Some academic libraries use vendors that provide remote reference service (ex: Library Help, Ask 24/7) during hours the library is closed.

Non-Reference Print & Online

Future of Print Materials

  • Nothing like browsing the stacks. Many patrons still prefer a print book.
  • eBook use didn’t take off as much as we thought they would
  • eBook use still going up but eBooks aren’t supplanting print
  • Academic Libraries have trouble getting students into eBooks. They don’t want eBooks for doing research.
  • In some libraries print materials are up av materials are done.
  • Many people are using Google in place of reference services
  • Is the term reference still relevant? Some alternate terms are public service, information desk, research help.
  • Do the public get the distinction between non-fiction and reference materials?
  • Is reference used now more to distinguish whether materials circulate or not, or actually the genre “reference” of nonfiction books
  • Print periodicals used more in public than Academic libraries


  • Some do a lot of surveys. (ACLRS, LARS, Springshare Reference Analytics)
  • Often public libraries don’t track as much.
  • Staff buy in on tracking statistics- whether staff will follow up or bother tracking statistics, some libraries have a lot of volunteers or p/t staff that don’t’ bother with statistics
  • How long was interaction, type of interaction, category of interaction (reference, ready reference, directional, program registration, technology help)
  • Some track what was the question, what was the answer
  • What staff member helped patron, what was the demographic of student
  • Some libraries format data in spreadsheets.
  • Some libraries don’t share stats with staff, even when they would be helpful to librarians
  • Using data to make collection decisions
  • Option of doing periodic “statistics week”
  • Tracking referrals of reference questions (tech help, reference consultation, Academic areas outside of the library)
  • Some libraries track  local history materials separately
  • One Academic Library started doing more with keeping track of statistics because Middle States came through
  • Some libraries only track subject areas of reference questions
  • Sometimes reference questions that get fielded at circulation desks don’t get tracked
  • What’s considered a reference question what isn’t?
  • Statistics are important for mandatory annual reports

*Other stats

  • Database usage (stats sometimes show databases aren’t worth cost). Only stats that are counted are retrievals or downloads not searches.
  • Circ stats, internal usage
  • Gate counts
  • Internal use counting
  • Hold statistics
  • Active patron statistics

Reference Special Interest Group

The reference group met at Southeastern NY Library Resources Council on Wednesday, July 18 from 9:30am - 12:30pm. These are notes from the meeting. The meeting was convened by Beth Zambito of Newburgh Free Library.

Thank you to Chris Morgan for taking the notes!

Next meeting

The next meeting of this SIG will be on Tuesday, October 23 from 9:30am - 4:30 pm.

Possible topics for the next meeting-

Credo Reference Presentation

Readers Advisory

Libguides Training


Technology needs

Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
21 South Elting Corners Road | Highland, NY 12528
Phone: (845) 883-9065