User-Focused Values of Empathy, Empowerment, and Communication Are Unheralded in Previous Conceptualizations of Reference and Information Services
A Review of:
VanScoy, Amy. (2021). Using Q methodology to understand conflicting conceptualizations of reference and information service. Library and Information Science Research, 43(1), 101107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2021.101107
Objective – To understand how experienced librarians conceptualize reference and information service (RIS), and to determine if and to what extent these conceptualizations match existing RIS models.
Design – Q methodology card sort followed by short interview.
Setting – Academic, public, school, and special libraries in Slovenia, South Africa, and the United States.
Subjects – Sixty-six (66) librarians from Slovenia, South Africa, and the United States.
Methods – The researcher asked participants to sort 35 statements about RIS from “Least like how I think” to “Most like how I think.” The participants had the opportunity to comment on their card sort. From these card sorts, the researcher used statistical methods to generate factors describing underlying conceptualizations of RIS. These factors were compared to existing literature on RIS.
Main Results – Departing from the prevailing “information provision/instruction” conceptualizations of RIS, the researcher found that most respondents conceptualized RIS according to three previously unacknowledged paradigms: 1) transformation and empathy; 2) communication and information provision; and 3) empowering and learning. Fifty-three (53) of the 66 participants loaded on to one of these three factors, i.e. sorted their cards in a similar way to other participants in that factor. Factors 2 and 3 supported existing ideas of RIS in the literature, whereas factor 1 presented a novel understanding of RIS. Common to all three factors, however, is a strong focus on the user.
Conclusion – Traditional models conceptualize RIS as emphasizing either information provision or instruction. The practical judgments of experienced, working librarians, however, gesture toward different, more nuanced theoretical conclusions. Beyond the traditional poles of RIS, librarians consider empathy, empowerment, transformation, and communication as other important aspects of the RIS function.
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