INLS 501: Reference Service Evaluation
The goal of this assignment is to get you thinking about the elements that make for a good reference encounter: what sorts of questions prompt what sorts of answers, is a subject expert or a generalist the best person to answer certain types of questions, what sorts of questions and/or answers are best suited to which media, what elements of the librarian-user interaction make for a satisfying reference experience and for what types of questions and in what media, etc.
This assignment has two parts: in-person & online. You will conduct two different information-seeking interactions as a user, early on in the semester (i.e., while you are still more or less tabula rasa, before you have much experience with being on the other side of the interaction). Your questions can be anything and come from any source: they can be the same or different questions for both interactions, they can be questions for another course, something a family member or a friend asked you, something you're just curious about, etc. I strongly encourage you to have your questions arise from a real information need: you will have a more realistic experience as a user, and will be better able to evaluate the service and address your satisfaction with the information provided.
After you have conducted your two information-seeking interactions, write an approximately 500-word post critically analyzing your experiences. Read the RUSA's Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers. Analyze your interactions according to the criteria provided by RUSA. You do not need to address every single criterion, as not every criterion may be appropriate for every interaction. But consider which criteria are appropriate for your interaction, and address those. Compare and contrast between your two interactions. If you do not plan to write your post immediately following your interactions, you may want to take notes and record your impressions of the interaction, during or immediately after.
Part 1: In-person reference service
Go in person and ask for information from a desk reference service of your choice: in one of the UNC libraries, a public library in Chapel Hill or wherever you live, etc. If you are working in a library, use a reference service in a different library than the one you work for. Also, many of your classmates have jobs in the various libraries on campus and in the Chapel Hill area; avoid asking your question to one of your classmates.
Part 2: Online reference service
Submit a question to an online reference service. You can use a service in any media: email, web, chat, IM, SMS, whatever. The service can be the digital arm of a desk reference service, for example what is offered by the UNC libraries, or the service can be a "standalone" digital reference service such as the Internet Public Library. If you are working in a library, use a reference service in a different library than the one you work for.
- The Virtual Reference Desk Project used to maintain a list of asynchronous reference services (this list is now only available from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine). Use one of these or find your own.
- Here is one list of libraries providing chat reference services, and another list. Here's a list specifically of libraries offering IM-based reference. Use one of these or find your own.
- Here is a list of all the reference services on campus.
Note: Some asynchronous digital reference services do not respond to 100% of the questions they receive. If you don't get a timely response, write about that in your post & don't worry about it. You tried. Submit a question to another service if you're feeling ambitious.
Please tag your post with the tag reference service evaluation.