We should conduct a fair test of which is preferred, the human reference librarian or the computer, and if, as I suspect, both are preferred under different conditions, we’d learn when which mode is the first choice. The test would be based on five assumptions:
- There will always be information seekers, people who ask a question when it isn’t obvious or easy to find the information.
- People who are blocked sometimes don’t know what questions to ask, so they need an “information therapist.”
- People prefer convenience over quality.
- Information seekers want speedy responses, so they can continue their work.
- Computers can’t always match the characteristics of the information seeker’s model of an ideal service: expert advice, personalized service, efficient service.
I’m not sure that these are the best assumptions to proceed from for this proposed study, but, well, Lipow proposed it & I didn’t, so she gets to say what the assumptions are. Which brings me to my point: as far as I know, no study like this has ever been conducted. RQ: What information needs motivate the use of what medium of reference service? Or, RQ: What situational factors affect a user’s choice to use a specific medium of reference service? Someone please conduct this study. And then you get to proceed from whatever assumptions you want.
Extra credit for the clever reader who can identify the origin of this post’s subject, without using a search engine.