From “the so-new-it-still-sparkles LITA blog” (thanks Jason!): Reference Interactions in the Digital Age: Revising the RUSA Behavioral Guidelines

The members of the panel seemed to agree that the goals and objectives for remote reference are no different from those for face-to-face reference. The same behaviors are desired, but new skills may need to be learned to accomplish the same results — reference interviews in which the librarians satisfy their clients’ information needs.

I couldn’t agree more. What is reference for? To educate people in how to find, use, and evaluate information resources. There’s nothing about that educational task that is specific to any medium.

One of the more interesting discussions of the program dealt with the importance of accuracy, which has less emphasis in the new document. The panel said that the new thinking is that many questions have no right answers. Negotiating questions, helping the clients better understand their questions and information needs, and giving them information to make decisions will better satisfy clients than giving them accurate answers.

Again, I couldn’t agree more. Also, this really throws into sharp relief why libraries and human-intermediated information services are necessary, when viewed next to search engines & other automated information services. Even the TREC Question Answering track is based on the assumption that people simply want answers handed to them. (Justification for those answers is in the long-range plans for TREC QA systems, but not required yet.) On the flip side though, one thing we found in the NCknows evaluation was that librarians evaluated chat transactions as being better if the librarian provided an answer. Even academic librarians said so, & academic libraries generally have a service philosophy to provide resources rather than answers! I hope that these new Guidelines will lead to a reëvaluation of how best to integrate instruction and answer-provision.

Thanks, Rick Roche, for posting this, whoever you are! I have to say, I’m very impressed with the quality of the reportage on the LITA blog.