INLS 501: Question Answering and Source Evaluation

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The Internet Public Library and Social Q&A assignments require you to reply to real questions from real people, and as such require you to actually provide answers to questions. This assignment frees you from that constraint: the questions are real enough (most come from real reference questions submitted to various local libraries), but there is no user at the other end.

The stereotypical reference transaction is a one-to-one interaction, between precisely one librarian and one user. This is the simplest model of interpersonal dialogic communication, so it makes sense that it has become the stereotype: for teaching purposes, a simplified model is often preferable. However, there are many common situations in which the reference transaction is not a one-to-one interaction, including several where there is collaboration between librarians. The Internet Public Library assignment, and to a certain extent the Social Q&A assignment, operate on the one-to-one model; this assignment operates on the model that reference work is collaborative.

The purpose of this assignment is to get you looking at information sources of all types, that may provide useful information for answering questions. You will work in pairs. Each pair will select two sources relevant to the question, one print and one electronic, and write brief reviews of these sources. These reviews must contain the following:

  1. Evaluation: A brief explanation of why the source is useful for answering the given question. What relevant information does it contain? Why is it appropriate for the questioner, given his/her level of knowledge / grade / etc.? Who or what is the authority behind the source / how trustworthy is the source? This is especially interesting if the information provided by different sources does not agree. (2 points)
  2. Bibliographic instruction: A brief explanation of the structure and organization of the source. How is the source used and how easy is it to use? How did you locate relevant information in the source? This may be trivial for some types of sources (e.g., encyclopedias), but may be considerably more complex for other types of sources (e.g., databases, Facts on File). (2 points)
  3. The reference interview: At least two questions that you would ask the patron if you were able to engage in question negotiation with him/her. (1 point)

The print and electronic sources may be the same source in two different media: e.g., the OED. If you go this route, however, your review must compare and contrast the source in two media: differences and similarities in organization, structure, functionality, usefulness, etc.

Note that identifying and evaluating appropriate sources is far more important for this assignment than actually answering the questions. You will probably have to formulate an answer for each question, in order to fully evaluate the sources your choose -- but consider the answer secondary. Also, not every question is answerable.

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