TRENDS FOR THE PROVISION OF A REFERENCE SERVICE IN 1990’s

TRENDS FOR THE PROVISION OF A REFERENCE SERVICE IN 1990’s*)
by Widodo

INTRODUCTION

The primary function of libraries and information centers is to preserve and disseminate new information. Recording information  is not a new issue in a library. It has been developed manually over the centuries in a card catalogue. Last century a cataloguer might have used a typewriter to store a book’s information – author, title, publisher, date of publication, dimension, etc. – on a card catalogue. Now, however, most libraries in developed countries are overwhelmed with the very fast growth in technologies for storing, processing and distributing information, such as hardware, software, CD ROMs, etc.

Transferring technology – from manual to electronic media – leads to increased effectiveness in library services, particularly in reference activities.  So far using electronic facilities makes it much easier and faster to retrieve current and   accurate information. Besides of accessing data, they also function  to edit  the librarians’ searches and send them directly via  network  or internet to clients. As a result, the more complex or wide services are provided the more questions come to the librarians’ desk to be answered. In another words, the increasing availability of computer based systems for recording and transmitting data will lead to heavier demands for on-line and remote access.
The major purpose of this paper is to identify the current issues for the provision  of a reference service and to determine its effectiveness.
NETWORKS

A network is likely two or more people exchanging information or giving each other support. It could be scientists or researchers who are interested in the same subject area and regularly contact each other for data or information. It could be libraries sharing a database or information about  their collection : books, journals or serials, and lending to each other. A special library may cooperate with an academic library which has wider range of subject, or, it could also be an academic library with others, etc. It will depend on the library to define it according to its community’ need.

COMPUTER NETWORKS

Computers  networks can be interpreted as computers which are  able to talk to each other when messages from one computer can be received by another and processed in an appropriate way. There must be a medium by which data or messages can pass from one computer to another. The possible media in computer networks are copper wires, optical cables, telephone lines, microwaves, and satellite channels, or a combination of these. Computer networks let the community send E-mail as an alternative to a letter, phone call or fax.  Kerry Webb1 identifies the two types of networks of particular interest to libraries : LANs (Local Area Networks), which links terminals or computers within a small geographical area such as building or a university campus; and bibliographic networks, which may connect a city, state, country, or several countries around the world.  From both networks users can benefit by consulting the database of other universities or libraries, and possibly, they may conduct a discussion group on subjects of interest.
In Australian practices, networks can be wider. For example,  ABN (the Australian Bibliographic Network), is a centralised and co-operative cataloguing Network, based in the National Library of Australia. The National Library provides cataloguing details of all Australian books, serials and other materials including holding data so that it is accessible to the Australian community.   In another words, as it is a large co-operative database, it is a more comprehensive resource sharing tool which benefits all its members. Another example is AARNet (the Australian Academic Research Network) which links all the Australian Academic and research institutions, and some commercial organisations. It also connects them into internet, such as : research networks in the USA, Europe and Britain. Some facilities provided in AARnet are :
– E-mail exchange which enables users to send messages to other computer users both local areas and other parts of the world.
– file transfer which makes it possible for users to move files from a directory on one computer to a directory on another.
– a means of connection which enables users to connect with a machine  far away to give commands or instructions.
– information, opinion and ideas exchange and discussions with other users on different subjects throughout the world.

INTERNET FOR REFERENCE SERVICES

It is the excellent work of internet, libraries and information centers utilise it in the ways to improve and enlarge the quality of reference services to their clientele.  Any type of its service provided, of course, is as a feedback of the patron’s question. Meanwhile, parallel to the patrons’ demands, the enquires may include, for example, a direct, a pithy information to a question, attainting a ready data.
Many other services may consist of the location of a relevant datafile, or a contact persons or experts; a comprehensive list citations, or a couple of full-text article.
A survey conducted by Sharyn Ladner and Hope N. Tillaman2 describes some advantages of  internet  in supporting reference services. Most of their respondents reported  that using internet  minimises the distance and feelings of isolation from colleagues, and allows them to a sense of unity or linkingness as  professionals in the same field throughout the world.  Others said  the quickness of communication – reducing calls  –  badly needed.
The speediness of communication with other members of inter library loans has a huge benefit for the reference librarians – reducing charges and saving time. Both are ideal for enlarging reference activities particularly in a cooperated environment, where speediness of responses to patrons is needed. The system of document expedition has obviously reduced its processing time and cost compared with  past few years. In the past few years, librarians might have used  sea or air mail to address their request documents. Today, in contrast, they can deliver messages through E-mail and receive copies of article by fax. This is the short way to obtain  current and full information.
Another advantage of using internet is that it may act as a discussion forum for those who deal with specific subjects or disciplines, such as : BUSLIB-L, MEDLIB-L and LIBREF. BUSLIB-L, begun in 1990, provides for an electronic discussion group concerned with all trends related to library materials, storage and distribution of business information within a library. The discussion topics they might choose are collection building, handling materials and  weeding, CD-ROM and online database, user services, bibliographic instruction, public relations, etc. Similar  to BUSLIB-L, MEDLIB-L which was begun  in 1991, is a forum for medical and health science librarians in which both practical and theoretical issues in public and technical services    are discussed. Generally, this forum is for expressing ideas, questions, announcements, and concerns specific to health science.
Another discussion group is LIBREF-L, a forum discussion for reference issues which was corporated in 1990 and coordinated by reference librarians at Kent State University. The topics for discussion may include : – reference management, such as the impact of the technology  the staff need, how to evaluate reference services, how long a patron should wait for assistance, etc; collection management, such as : criteria for weeding, the ideal size a ready reference collection; professional ethics, such as : a discussion on whether a reference librarian should express his/her own opinion to a client, and control information.
All of the mentioned above are a result of new technology. Internet in particular is installed by UNIX System, or Sprint Net, or TYMNET  which permits the users (librarians and their clients) to search commercial online Databases, such as DIALOG, STN, RLIN, OCLC’s EPIC, MEDLIN, etc. Using UNIX systems, for example, has several advantages. It may allow librarians to capture search sessions directly into a file store. Its greatest ability is to grasp what is passing on the screen directly to a file. When the capturing has already been completed and found, then the librarians can continue to edit  sessions before the data is sent to the clients. The next great capability of UNIX systems is that even where a client is far away he can watch   librarians carry out a search on their screens. If both librarian and the client have lines phone numbers, they can conduct a discussion.
Last but not least, UNIX systems has another characteristic which is available for orientation classes. When a librarian demonstrate a searching, at the same time the student can obviously follow on his computer what the librarians do. Whenever the result of a search  comes up on the tutor’s screen, then it can be transferred to another student’s screen.
From this view point, internet is not   an information resource or a database to consult, but it is  actually  a communication tool to cope with and disseminate   actual information.

CONCLUSION

From time to time libraries  improve their services to users so that they become quiker, more accurate and efficient. The early 1990’s is the beginning of a revolution in reference service. Using internet with some software   makes it possible to access current databases. This revolution makes the distance shorter from one library to another, as the term says : Library Without Walls.

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REFERENCES :

1. Goldstein, Cecil and Ron Heard. Getting the most of AARNet. Queensland : Queensland University of Technology, Cumputing Services, 1992.
2. Kalin, Sally W and Roy Tennant. “Beyond opacs … the wealth of information resources on the internet”. Database. 14 (4) August 1991 : 28 – 33.
3. Keays, Thomas. “Searching online database services over the internet”.  Online. v. 17 no. 1 January 1993 : 29 – 33.
4. Ladner, J. Sharyn and Hope N. Tillman. “Using the internet for reference”. Online. v. 17 no. 1 January 1993 : 45 – 51.
5. National Library of Australia. ABN handbook 1988 – 89 Part 1 : a new user’s guide. Canberra : National Library of Australia, 1988.
6. Paster, Amy and Bonni Osif. “Great expectations : satisfying today’s patrons’. Special library. Fall 83. 4 (1992) : 195 – 198.
7. Quint, Barbara. “Inside a searcher’s mind : the seven tages of an online search – part 1 – 2” Online. 15 (3) 1991 – 15 (4) 1991 : 13 – 18, 28 – 35.
8. WEBB, Kerry. “Networks”. Information technology design and application. edited by N. Lane and M. Clisholm. Boston : GK Hall, 1991.

*) an old document

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