REFERENCE SERVICES: A SAMPLE PRACTICE

REFERENCE SERVICES: A SAMPLE PRACTICE

by  Widodo

I. INTRODUCTION
The most fundamental service of reference activities is answering questions. A library’s client may come as an individual to get a query about a topic and approach the reference desk expecting the librarian to provide an answer, or if not to indicate where or how the information may be found.
This project deals with a practical reference service and involves: conducting a  reference   interview to find out “any information” formulating search strategies, identifying  and deciding the appropriate resources  to a such query, negotiating the findings with the client and then evaluating the resources against the evaluation criteria. The client wants to obtain documents in various media: full text, abstracts, bibliographic references/citations, conference proceeding articles, books, journal articles, and statistics in order to prepare her masters degree thesis. Further requirements are that the documents must be written in English or Indonesian, published since 2005, and can be find in any barrier.

II. FORMULATING SEARCH STRATEGY
A search is a process of logically combining words or phrases that describe the ideas or concepts that make up the search topic. Frequently, a concept may be described by several synonymns or alternate terms that are similar in meaning. Specific terms shall be included in a search strategy to assure comprehensive retrieval. The following describes the way to create a search strategy:
• determining what concepts are present within the topic
• identifying synonymns or alternate words or phrases that best describe each concept
• determining which concept is the most important and search for that first
• modifying the search using logical options, such as include, limit, or exclude to refine the search strategy. In another words, modifying the search using Boolean Logic, eq.: and, or, and not
If the results are too copious, limit the scope of search with one or more concepts until the search results are manageable. If, however, the results are too sparse, include additional synonyms or alternatives to broaden the scope of the search. If we retrieve too many irrelevant records, we can exclude terms or phrases that cause the false retrieval. If we get nil results, try using more general search terms. Decreasing the number of concepts contained in the topic or refocussing the search may improve search results.
In relation to the query, for example, “the evolution of information consultancies and brokers in Indonesia”,  you shall identify the most important key words. There are information consultancy, information brokers, and Indonesia.  Checking  those in the LCSH  and Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors I will find:
information consultants
BT information scientists

information scientists
UF Information brokers
Both information consultants and information brokers are considered as controlled vocabularies. The words information agencies may be searched as natural language. So you can decide to search under the three searching formulations, ie:  information consultants,  information agencies,  and  information brokers. However, when the result is poor you include information scientists.

III. GENERAL EVALUATIVE CRITERIA FOR REFERENCE RESOURCES
With the needs and responsibilities clear, you can begin the selection of the proper reference resources. In practice, resource selection involves balancing relevancy with accessibility. The most comprehensive source may demand an extra effort searchers in their pursuit of new services. Accessibility, on the other hand, deals with not only making the searcher’s life easy, but it also allows fast completion of the search, reducing cost, and permitting expansion of a search into more specific, and related areas.
Reference resources are composed of three major elements: the data coverage, a retrieval system, and a user interface design. Depending on the library’s requirements, and resulting specification, all these components must be identified individually and in relation to each other in order to decide whether or not reference shall be applied in answering a question. Dealing with their usefulness, however, the above elements may be developed under the following headings:

• coverage of resources, eg: the comprehensiveness of subject coverage including scope, language, year and type.
• indexing policy, eg: dealing with retrieval effectiveness of indexing process (exhausivity and depth of indexing).
• search features, ie: dealing with search effectiveness, search strategies provided by the resources eg: Boolean logic, proximity operator, steps search, truncation, comparation, etc,. Are data elements in different fields searcable?
• time, ie: dealing with how long searchers wait before a response to a search.
• relevancy, ie precision: dealing with the number of relevant documents retrieved and search applied.
• cost, ie: dealing with whether or not a searcher pay for searchings.
• system features, eg: dealing with file structure and records structure.
• errors, eg: dealing with whether or not data errors have been made by indexers in certain fields, and the consequences of finding.
• requirement of reference interview, ie: dealing with coverage and currency of the query.

IV. CHOOSING RESOURCES
Identifying reference resources available, both inside and outside the library, is a key element in the decision-making process after the interview. It must characterise what resources are required to handle a given question. A decision can then be made on action to be taken if the desired level of resources is not available internally.
The concept of  ‘reference resources’ differs from the reference collection. The definitions of reference resources include the reference collection; the periodical collection; the government collection; the general collection; specially developed resources such as vertical files, union lists, bibliographies, CD-ROM, and card files; as well as access to online databases and outside resources and expertise which may be possible by telephone, electronic mail, fax, and Internet. A mix of resources is needed to increase the effectiveness of the users’ enquiry and in order to satisfy their expactations.

1. INTERNET
In recent decades   libraries have gained the ability to access information independent of the library itself. Following the fast growth of technology, librarians, and other information agencies, and scholars will no longer be confined to using materials found only within their institutions or libraries. Telecommunications, networks, and microcomputers, with their capacity to  store files and their processing capability, enable researchers to access all kinds of automated information systems regardless of location. In another words, Internet has been a great research tool.
Searching via Internet: Libnet, you may assume that it will have full records of  library catalogues and databases around the world and that it will give a great choice of data.
Having access through the libraries and databases around the world, it seemed that they offer users a variety of search startegies: Boolean logic, truncation, set bulding, etc. The records are  mostly accessible under controlled vocabulary or subject headings, author, coporate authors, title or key words. As a result, records retrieved make fully satisfy to the question.
E-journals is a wonderful collective database which has such features as the following:
– all components of a paragraph are searchable.
– ignores the stopwords, including lower/upper cases.
– has boolean operator, searching on more than one term with specification using: and, or, not.
– truncation, searching on stem of a term and retrieve the stem and characters following the stem. The symbol of truncation is $.
– back referencing, combining the results of a last search with the current one by referring to the last search statement number.
– contextual operators, defining the positional relationship between terms on the more specific level of word, sentence or paragraphs. These can be operated by using: adj, adj’n’, near, near’n’, with, same.
– searching with a specific field is possible.
– combination of boolean logic and contextual operator.
– deleting, saving, excecuting, printing, sorting search are possible.
– the number of document searches and retrievals is displayed.
– displaying with specific number of records is possible.
– displaying with specific format is possible.
– printing with in sort specification is possible.
– help menu and command are provided.

2. CD-ROMs
It is encouraging to know there are a  huge amount of sources which list and explain the databases available in CD-ROMs.  CD-ROM offers many kinds of data, such as subject, author, company name, or report number, which are searched by browsing in an index. To access the index, we can enter the first few letters of the term. The index highlight bar shifts to approximate the term as each character is entered. The indexing policy decision in most CD-ROM products are both controlling vocabulary and natural language which makes it easy for any level of users.

3. PRINTED MATERIALS
Checking on OPAC at the library you may find an abundance of reference tools which give access to particular subject areas.

V. REPORTING AND NEGOTIATING THE RESULT
Having completed the action of formulating search strategy, selecting and searching in appropriate resources both available in the library and outside resources, you can move on to reporting back and negotiating the findings with the client. The client may choose the results which are the best in response to the question. My client was satisfied.

VI. EVALUATION
Having made a comparation of the different resources, you may conclude that it is difficult to identify which resource is the best. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. The printed materials give less results than CD-ROM and INTERNET, and they are time consuming, they do not provide access to all fields and the user cannot choose the format of output printing. Data fields on the CD-ROM are accessible and different output results may be chosen, while printed materials may generally provide author, subject, journal title, and title index. Users such as students who only search occasionally and are not familiar with the Internet or CD-ROM, may find difficulties. Searching on Iternet has a number of problems, such as: time of response to the search, the necessity of sometimes typing a password, and its inability to print directly.

References

1. Blood, Richard W. ‘Evaluation of online searches’. in RQ. Spring 1983.
2. Kalin, Sally W. ‘Beyond opacs… the wealth of information resources on the internet’. in Database. 14 (4) August 1991, p. 28-33.
3. Keays, Thomas. “Searching online database services over the Internet”.  Online. v.17 no. 1 January 1993: 29 – 33.
4. Krol, E (Ed). The whole Internet : user’s guide & catalog. 1st ed. Sebastopol, CA : O’Reilly & Associates, 1992  (Nutshell handbook)
5. Ladner, J. Sharyn and Hope N. Tillman. “Using the internet for reference”. Online. v. 17 no. 1 January 1993: 45 – 51.
6. Nicholls, Paul T. CD-ROM collection builder’s toolkit: the complete handbook of tools for evaluating CD-ROMs. Weston: Pemberton Press, 1990.
7. Pao, M. Concepts of information retrieval. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1989.
7. Quint, Barbara. ‘Inside a searcher’s mind: the seven stages of an online search- part 1 + 2’. in Online. 15 (3) 1991, 15 (4) 1991, p. 13-18, 28-35.

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