Academic Library Patrons Value Personalized Attention and Subject Matter Expertise in Reference Consultations
A Review of:
Rogers, E., & Carrier, H. S. (2017). A qualitative investigation of patrons’ experiences with academic library research consultations. Reference Services Review, 45(1), 18–37. https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-04-2016-0029
Objective – To examine the experiences of patrons with one-on-one reference consultation services.
Design – Qualitative analysis of open-ended interviews.
Setting – Academic library at a public university in the Southern United States.
Subjects – Students who attended a consultation with a reference librarian.
Methods – All students who attended a reference consultation with a librarian were invited to participate in an interview. Open-ended interviews were conducted after informed consent was collected. Interviewers were provided with prompts to help participants discuss their experiences but were not intended to guide the conversation. The interviews were recorded and then transcribed line-by-line. The transcripts were then analyzed using a conventional, inductive model of content analysis. Transcripts were first analyzed in an initial phase to identify basic themes, and then further examined in an advanced analysis in light of these themes.
Main Results – 10 students agreed to participate for a response rate of 38%. Most participants became aware of the reference consultation service by receiving library instruction as part of their course or through word-of-mouth recommendations from peers or faculty. No participants were aware of consultations through library marketing efforts or the library website. The major theme that emerged from the analysis was that patrons chose a reference consultation because it allowed them one-on-one attention from the librarian and because of the librarian’s perceived subject expertise. The primary problems participants identified with the service were that it was not adequately marketed to the students and that students were not aware of the service. Participants intended to use the skills and information gathered from the consultation to continue their independent research and they also largely intended to use librarian’s services as they continue working on their projects.
Conclusion – The authors found that the reference consultation is a valuable service for academic libraries and that consultation with a librarian in their office provides unique perceived benefits to the patrons compared to a traditional reference desk interaction. Further research is suggested to determine the value of consultations for distance or online students, to ensure that reference consultations services are sustainable, and to further examine student’s emotive reactions to the consultation experience.
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