Reference Is Better Than We Thought

Reference Is Better Than We Thought

“The point is that in prior studies of reference service, accuracy has usually meant some number of judges scoring ten or 20 so-called typical questions on a scale ranging from “completely answered” to “not answered at all.” The results of these studies, unfortunately, are all too familiar: half-right reference service. This outcome was dubbed the “55 percent rule” by Peter Hernon and Charles McClure (“Unobtrusive Reference Testing,” LJ 4/15/86, p. 37–41)….

We found that the so-called “55 percent rule” has never been tested against a truly representative field sample. In 90 percent of the cases in this examination, a panel of reference experts determined that librarians recommended an accurate source or an accurate strategy in response to a user's query.

The most important factor predicting accuracy was the difficulty of the query. This finding is intuitively obvious—it makes sense. Earlier work didn't make sense. The reference service performance model was overly simplistic, samples were way too small, and the test questions simply were not truly representative of real-world reference questions.

For the first time, we now have a study with a sophisticated model, one of the largest samples ever (9,274 persons inquiring for assistance), and questions drawn from the library users' realm—all employing the latest statistical techniques….

Our new study shows that we need to view reference service as the same interpersonal process as was envisioned by Samuel Swett Green (“Personal Relations Between Librarians and Readers,” LJ 11/30/1876, p. 74–81). This is especially important as we move toward web-based, 24/7 virtual reference enterprises. We might make old Samuel S. Green proud!” [Library Journal, via]

I just had to post this to prove yet again that librarians rock! So today's lesson is: the next time you have a question, contact your local public library! [The Shifted Librarian]

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