Characteristics of E-Mail Reference Services in Selected Public Libraries, Victoria, Australia

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Stony Brook University]On: 26 October 2014, At: 10:49Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>The Reference LibrarianPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:</p><p>Characteristics of E-Mail Reference Services in SelectedPublic Libraries, Victoria, AustraliaDoreen Sullivan aa Bayside Library Service , Victoria, AustraliaPublished online: 12 Oct 2008.</p><p>To cite this article: Doreen Sullivan (2004) Characteristics of E-Mail Reference Services in Selected Public Libraries, Victoria,Australia, The Reference Librarian, 41:85, 51-80, DOI: 10.1300/J120v41n85_05</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of theContent. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, andare not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon andshould be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable forany losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use ofthe Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>Characteristicsof E-Mail Reference Servicesin Selected Public Libraries,</p><p>Victoria, Australia</p><p>Doreen Sullivan</p><p>SUMMARY. An analysis of 96 question and answer pairs from theBayside Library Ask a Librarian Service found that 54 percent of thequeries were received from Bayside residents. Forty-seven percent ofthe e-mail reference questions were classed as research queries. Al-though only 25.1 percent of the queries were submitted for formal edu-cation purposes, all of these were research questions, and took longerthan any other category to answer. In 2001, only 6 of the 54 questionssubmitted were tertiary level questions, but it took a median time of 95minutes to answer each one. The 24 general interest category questionstook a median time of 47.5 minutes to answer, which is almost half thetime it took to answer a tertiary level query.</p><p>Librarians from three other public libraries in Victoria offering e-mail</p><p>Doreen Sullivan is Senior Reference Librarian, Bayside Library Service, Victoria,Australia.</p><p>Address correspondence to: Doreen Sullivan, 9/40 Ormond Road, Elwood VIC3184, Australia (E-mail:</p><p>This article is based on research conducted for a minor thesis for a Master of Busi-ness (Information Technology) at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Uni-versity.</p><p>[Haworth co-indexing entry note]: Characteristics of E-Mail Reference Services in Selected Public Li-braries, Victoria, Australia. Sullivan, Doreen. Co-published simultaneously in The Reference Librarian(The Haworth Information Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc.) No. 85, 2004, pp. 51-80; and: Digitalversus Non-Digital Reference: Ask a Librarian Online and Offline (ed: Jessamyn West) The Haworth Infor-mation Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc., 2004, pp. 51-80. Single or multiple copies of this articleare available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service [1-800-HAWORTH, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00p.m. (EST). E-mail address:].</p><p> 2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.</p><p>Digital Object Identifer: 10.1300/J120v41n85_05 51</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Ston</p><p>y B</p><p>rook</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 1</p><p>0:49</p><p> 26 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>reference were interviewed, and compared and contrasted with theBayside Library Service.</p><p>Issues of disproportionate labour, the appearance of the passive roleof the e-mail reference user, and the wisdom of public libraries devotingsignificant resources to answer questions for formal education wereraised. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document DeliveryService: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: Website: 2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc.All rights reserved.]</p><p>KEYWORDS. Ask a Librarian services, e-mail reference, public librar-ies, reference services, Bayside Library Service</p><p>E-mail reference services have existed since at least 1985.1 Most ofthe literature on the topic, however, has focused on the academic or spe-cial library. Few studies have examined Ask a Librarian services in pub-lic libraries, yet public libraries are more likely to implement an e-mailreference service2 over a chat or video-conferencing service.</p><p>Discussion of e-mail reference has waned and can be considered tobe as quaint as discussion of telephone reference.3 However, in Febru-ary 2003 Sloan noted on the Dig_Ref list that a greater proportion oftime was given to discussion of synchronous services such as chat thanof asynchronous services such as e-mail reference. He suggested thate-mail reference still accounted for a large number of virtual referencequeries, but suggested it was such a given that it was rarely discussed.4</p><p>This paper investigates e-mail reference services in four public li-braries in the state of Victoria, Australia, with particular emphasis onthe Bayside Library Service. It especially examines whether research orready reference questions are asked of the services, whether studentsare the main users of the services, whether public libraries will answerqueries outside of their service communities, and to what extent indi-vidual public library services provide an answer in e-mail referenceif afull answer is provided or if sources and instruction to find answers areprovidedand how the composition of these answers are packaged andpresented.</p><p>BACKGROUND</p><p>When the author of this paper was given responsibility in the year2000 for the Ask a Librarian e-mail reference service at the public</p><p>52 Digital versus Non-Digital Reference: Ask a Librarian Online and Offline</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Ston</p><p>y B</p><p>rook</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 1</p><p>0:49</p><p> 26 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>Bayside Library she found herself in an unfamiliar role. Althoughskilled in reference work and experienced in e-mail use, she was unsureif these two skills alone were sufficient to provide a quality e-mail refer-ence service. In order to train herself she volunteered to answer ques-tions at the Internet Public Library. The IPL is a digital library providedfor the Internet community.</p><p>In May 2000, Victorias Virtual Library (VVL) and its Ask a Librar-ian program was implemented.5 Rostered staff members from public li-braries in Victoria answer queries submitted to this site. Each month adifferent public library is responsible for the provision of answers, andso the responsibility is rotated among a number of different public li-braries. Bayside Library Service participated in this program in May2001 and October 2002. Several public libraries in Victoria have usedthe VVL as a training module prior to implementation of their own ser-vice.6</p><p>The author has participated in three e-mail reference services since2000: the IPL, the VVL, and the Bayside Library Ask a Librarian ser-vice.</p><p>In her experience of answering questions received via e-mail at local,state and international level, the author has been at times startled at herperception that quite complex questions are asked and, given the levelof research that these questions sometimes require, felt that some wereinappropriate for public library services. In general, it was assumed bythe researcher that the more complex a question was the more likely itwould have been asked by someone who needed the answer for formaleducation.</p><p>She believed that a significant number of undergraduate level ques-tions were asked of the Ask a Librarian service at Bayside. She notedpostgraduate level questions of some complexity were on occasionposted to the IPL site. These questions included requests for literaturereviews for masters level students. However, these questions may havebeen remembered because they appeared extraordinarily in-depth. Shewondered if e-mail reference sites hosted by public libraries had stu-dents as their main users, or if the user range was broader. She won-dered if Ask a Librarian services in public libraries served their ownlocal community or if a wider range of people were served.</p><p>E-mail reference has been thought to suit quick, factual questions.7- 9However, since 2000 onwards some researchers have considered e-mailreference to be suitable for research and complex questions.10-14</p><p>Section One: The Old versus the New 53</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Ston</p><p>y B</p><p>rook</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 1</p><p>0:49</p><p> 26 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>The IPL and the VVL are both virtual libraries with no physicalbuilding attached. Both are collaborative models where a number ofpeople participate in reference provision on a rotation or volunteer ba-sis. In individual public libraries however, one librarian alone often per-forms e-mail reference services.</p><p>Based on observation and experience of four separate Ask a Librar-ian services, questions arose about how public libraries offered theire-mail reference services. Were questions answered for anyone whoasked them, regardless of where they were geographically based? Weretertiary students the main users of Ask a Librarian services? What wasthe nature of the questions asked? Were questions quick and factual orresearch based? How many questions were asked? How did librarians inpublic libraries answer these questions? How long did it take to researchand compose an answer on average? Were e-mail answers presentedand packaged, tailored for each individual? Does e-mail reference con-sume more time than in-person or telephone reference? How and whywere e-mail reference services offered in public libraries? Was a greaterservice given to those who asked reference questions via e-mail insteadof in person or on the telephone? Does the librarian do all the work andthe question asker reap all the rewards? Does the user have a role in thereference process beyond submission of a question?</p><p>BAYSIDE LIBRARY SERVICE AND CITY BACKGROUND</p><p>Bayside Library Service is a metropolitan library service in Victoriathat serves the suburbs of Beaumaris, Black Rock, Brighton, BrightonEast, parts of Cheltenham, Hampton, parts of Highett, and Sandring-ham. It has a total population of 83,50415 and 44.2% are registered li-brary members.</p><p>Bayside City is considered an affluent area.16 Over half (54.6%) ofthe households own computers.17 Just over half (51.3%) used the Internetin the week preceding the 2001 census.18</p><p>Residents of Bayside tend to be highly educated, and work in whitecollar professions, in particular business, education, and health.</p><p>The correlation between education, profession and e-mail referenceusethose that are tertiary educated and are employed in education orinformation technology sectors are most likely to adapt to newer tech-nologies19-21appeared to be particularly apt for the population of Bay-side.</p><p>54 Digital versus Non-Digital Reference: Ask a Librarian Online and Offline</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Ston</p><p>y B</p><p>rook</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 1</p><p>0:49</p><p> 26 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>PUBLIC LIBRARIES OF VICTORIA IN CONTEXT</p><p>Victoria is an interesting state to examine for e-mail reference ser-vices because:</p><p>1. it has at least one Internet access station in every library ser-vice;22,23</p><p>2. forty-one of forty-four public libraries subscribe to the Gulliverdatabase consortium;24</p><p>3. 90.5% of Victorian public libraries have a web site,25 and;4. reference queries in Victoria have increased by 2.5% between the</p><p>1996/1997 and 2000/2001 financial years,26 although many refer-ence librarians in Victoria believe the increase is due to anomaliesin the statistical collection process instead of an actual increase inqueries.27</p><p>The Gulliver Consortium is a core collection of databases comprisedof the Gale One File database, Gale Health &amp; Wellness Center, andEBSCO ANZRC (Australian New Zealand Reference Centre) database.</p><p>The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicated that public li-braries in Victoria receive support from state and local government inthe form of funds, grants, subsidies and materials, although each indi-vidual library is responsible for its provision of service.28 State, National,virtual libraries (such as Victorias Virtual Library), and commercial li-braries were not examined here. In particular, the study sought to inves-tigate if e-mail reference customers of the service area used the Ask aLibrarian Service, or if customers from far beyond the service areaoverseas or interstateused it.</p><p>The Internet Public Library is not an actual public library under thisdefinition (nor is it in Victoria). In fact, the Internet Public Library hasexperienced some financial difficulties over the years, precisely be-cause it cannot tax its users. It now seeks corporate sponsorships.29</p><p>Both Bristow30 and Gray31 question the impetus behind offeringe-mail reference services on a global scale, particularly when the fund-ing for that service is provided for specific clientele at a local level.Mon32 noted a propensity for people to contact government e-mail ref-erence services such as her own Department of State Foreign AffairsNetwork (DOFSAN) for answers to questions that could be answeredby local public or academic libraries. She used the example of a studentwho asked via e-mail where he could locate a copy of the standard refer-ence work Statistical Abstract. She reported that government and other</p><p>Section One: The Old versus the New 55</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Ston</p><p>y B</p><p>rook</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 1</p><p>0:49</p><p> 26 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>Ask-an-Expert services were overwhelmed with queries, whereas li-braries continued to report a low volume of questions received viae-mail. She suggested that because non-library digital reference ser-vices had no community tax or funding base to rely on, unlike tradi-tional libraries, but provide free services to those who have not had theirneeds met at the local library, then local libraries should be invoiced forevery question answered from their service community.</p><p>At the same time, whet...</p></li></ul>


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