Reference Desk Employees Need Both Research Knowledge and Technical Skills for Successful Reference Transactions


  • Lisa Shen Sam Houston State University



library reference services, job skills, reference skills


A Review of:
Chan, E. K. (2014). Analyzing recorded transactions to extrapolate the required knowledge, skills, and abilities of reference desk providers at an urban, academic/public library. Journal of Library Administration, 54(1), 23-32. doi:10.1080/01920836.2014.893113


Objective – To determine the essential knowledge and skills required by reference positions serving academic and public library patrons.

Design – Data analysis of recorded reference transactions using author-created categories.

Setting – The reference desk of a joint academic and public library in downtown San José, California.

Subjects – A total of 9,683 in-person and phone reference transactions recorded between August 20 and December 29, 2012.

Methods – All reference transactions recorded in the tracking software Gimlet during the fall 2012 semester were downloaded and analyzed in Excel using 17 author-created reference service categories. Of the original 13,827 transaction entries, 4,135 were eliminated because the actual reference questions, an optional entry in Gimlet, were not recorded. Thus these transactions could not be properly categorized for analysis.
Main Results – The most frequently occurred type of reference transaction (16.6%, or 1,607 out of 9,683) out of the 17 categories was assistance for printing, copying, scanning, and wireless network assistance. The next most regularly recorded categories were catalog searching for non-known items (15.0%) and general research (10.9%), which included formulating research questions and selecting the appropriate resources for searching.

When clustering the 17 reference question categories into 4 broader thematic groups, “research-oriented assistance,” including question categories for catalog searching and general research, emerged as the most common question type (31.7%). Technical and equipment assistance (30.8%) was the second most popular category group, followed by facility and policy questions (19.2%), and quick search requests (18.3%).

Conclusion – The study findings suggest that successful reference desk transactions would require library employees to master research knowledge as well as technical computer and equipment skills.


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Author Biography

Lisa Shen, Sam Houston State University

Business Librarian & Assistant Professor




How to Cite

Shen, L. (2014). Reference Desk Employees Need Both Research Knowledge and Technical Skills for Successful Reference Transactions. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 9(4), 55–57.



Evidence Summaries

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