Document (#28995)

Author
Janes, J.
Title
Introduction to reference work in the digital age.
Imprint
New York, NY : Neal-Schuman
Year
2003
Pages
213 S
Isbn
1-55570-429-8
Footnote
Rez. in: JASIST 56(2005) no.11, S.1237-1238 (E. Yakel): "This book provides the profession with a cogent, thorough, and thoughtful introduction to digital reference. Janes not only provides the breadth of coverage expected in an introduction, but also depth into this important topic. Janes' approach is managerial or administrative, providing guidelines for reference work that can be applied in different settings. Janes creates a decision-making framework to help reference librarians make decisions concerning how, to what extent, and in what cases digital reference services will be delivered. In this way, Janes avoids dictating a "one-size-fits-all" model. This approach is the major strength of the book. Library administrators and heads of reference services will find the administrative approach welcome by helping them think through which digital reference policies and methods will best target core constituencies and their institutional environments. However, the book deserves a broader audience as professors will find that the book fits nicely in a general reference course. For all readers, the book is readable and engaging and also challenging and questioning. The book begins with a history of reference work, nicely positioning digital reference in this tradition and noting the changes wrought by the digital age. By doing this, the author establishes both continuity and change in reference work as well as the values surrounding this activity. These values are largely those from the library community and Support people's access to information as well as activities that support the use of information. Janes closes this chapter by noting that the continuing changes in demographics, technology, and connectivity will impact reference work in ways that are not yet imaginable. This introduction sets the tone for the rest of the book. Janes defines digital reference service as "the use of digital technologies and resources to provide direct, professional assistance to people who are seeking information, wherever and whenever they need it" (p. 29). This definition covers a lot of ground. Examples include everything from a public library answering email queries to commercial ask-an-expert services. While the primary audience is librarians, Janes continually reminds readers that many others perform reference activities an the World Wide Web. Furthermore, he cautions readers that there are larger forces shaping this activity in the world that need to acknowledged. In building a framework for decision-making, Janes outlines the types of digital reference service. This discussion covers the communieations modes, such as e-mail, chat, Web forms, etc. It also analyzes the modalities by which reference service is delivered: synchronous/ asynchronous. Using these two dimensions (communication method and synchronous/asynchronous), Janes presents the variety of contexts in which digital reference can take place and then outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each of these. This translates into a decision-making framework by which readers analyze their particular setting and then select the modes and modalities that world be most effective. This is a powerful device and demonstrates the many options (and perhaps also the obstacles) for providing digital reference service.
The discussion of modes for digital reference world be incomplete without focusing an the technologies that support this activity. E-mail, Web forms, chat, instant messaging, and videoconferencing, as well as the call center based software, are now being adapted for use in libraries. The book discusses the technologies currently available and an the horizon to support digital reference services. While these sections of the book may not age well, they will provide us with a historical glimpse of the nascent development of such tools and how they were used at the beginning of the digital reference age. True to the emphasis an decision-making, the chapter an technology includes a list of functions that reference librarians world want in software to support digital reference. While no current applications have all of these features, this list provides librarians with some ideas concerning possible features that can be prioritized to aid in a selection process. Despite the emphasis an technology, Janes contextualizes this discussion with several significant issues relating to its implementation. These include everything from infrastructure, collaborative service standards, service design, user authentication, and user expectations. The sections an collaborative service models and service design are particularly interesting since they are both in their infancy. Readers wanting an answer or the "best" design of either institutional or collaborative digital reference service will be disappointed. However, raising these considerations is important and Janes points out how crucial these issues will be as online reference service matures. User authentication in the context of reference service is especially tricky since tensions can emerge between license agreements and the range of people who may or may not be covered by these contracts querying reference librarians. Finally, no discussion of digital reference is complete without a discussion of the possibility of 24/7 reference service and the ensuing user expectations. While Janes has no answers to the dilemmas these raise, he does alert libraries providing digital reference services to some of the realities. One is that libraries will get a broader range of questions, which could impact staff time, collection development to support these questions, and necessitate either a confirmation of priorities or a reprioritization of activities. Another reality is that the users of digital reference services may never have partaken of their services before. In fact, for libraries funded to serve a particular constituency (public libraries, academic libraries) this influx of users raises questions about levels of service, funding, and policy. Finally, in keeping with the underlying theme of values that pervades the book, Janes points out the deeper issues related to technology such as increasing ability to track users an the web. While he realizes that anonymous information about those who ask reference questions world provide reference librarians with a great deal of information to hone services and better serve constituencies, he is well aware of the dangers involved in collectiog patron information in electronic form.
Given that the Web is constantly changing, Janes turns bis focus to the future of digital reference. Topics include changes in reference practice, restructuring resource utilization, and the evolving reference interview. These are crucial dimensions of digital reference practice that require attention. The most intriguing of these is the changing nature of the interaction with the patron. The majority of digital reference takes place without physical, aural, or visual eines to gauge understanding or to sense conclusion of the interaction. While Janes provides some guidelines for both digital reference interviewing and Web forms, he honestly admits that reference interviewing in the technologically mediated environment requires additional study in both the asynchronous and particularly synchronous communication modalities. As previously noted, Janes is as concerned about developing the infrastructure for digital reference, as he is about the service itself. By infrastructure, Janes means not only the technological infrastructure, but also the people and the institution. In discussing the need for institutionalization of digital reference, he discusses (re)training reference staff, staffing models, and institutionalizing the service. The section an institutionalizing the service itself is particularly strong and presents a 10-step planning process for libraries to follow as they consider developing online services. The book ends with some final thoughts and exhortations to the readers. The author, as in the rest of the book, encourages experimentation, innovation, and risk taking. These are not characteristics that are automatically associated with librarians, but these qualities are not alien to readers either. The theme of planning and the value of connecting people with information pervade this chapter. In this closing, Janes subtly tells readers that his guidelines and proposals are just that-there is no magic bullet here. But he does argue that there has been good work done and some models that can be adopted, adapted, and improved (and then hopefully shared with others). In the end, Janes leaves readers with a feeling that there is a place for library reference service in the digital realm. Furthermore, he is convinced that the knowledge and skills of reference librarians are translatable into this arena. By focusing an the institutionalization of digital reference services, Janes is trying to get libraries to better position themselves in the virtual world, beside the commercial services and the plethora of Web-based information competing for the patrons' attention."
Theme
Informationsmittel
Internet

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