INLS 501: Street Reference

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The advent of social Q&A has shown that providing information service is not the exclusive purview of librarians. The Slam the Boards! initiative was an effort to have librarians at least partially reclaim that space. But people have and seek to fulfill their information needs everywhere, not just at reference desks or the online equivalents. To remain visible and relevant, therefore, librarians need to bring information services to the people.

Some particularly outreach-minded librarians have been providing reference work in public places for a long time. This assignment was inspired by the 2009 street reference fundraiser organized by students in the iSchool at the University of Toronto.

You will provide street reference, and write a brief report on the experience. You can conduct your street reference event anywhere you want. You can conduct your event individually or with a group -- though I would recommend in a group, of 3 or more. It might even make sense to coordinate a larger, class-wide effort with ILSSA or SCALA.

The goal of this assignment is to get you thinking about how to plan and implement a reference service.

Your (group's) report will be due near the end of the semester. If you provided street reference by yourself, write the report by yourself; if you provided street reference as part of a group, that group should write the report collectively. The report must address the following issues:

  • How did you decide where and when to stage your street reference event? What (perhaps latent) information needs did you identify that you were seeking to fulfill?
  • How did you identify the (probable) audience for and users of your street reference service? how did you prepare for their (probable) information needs?
  • Describe the logistics of planning and conducting your street reference event: Did you need to get permission to set up at that place and time? What advertisement of the event did you do? How many answerers were involved? How many patrons served? Etc.
  • What questions were asked, what were the answers, what was your information search and evaluation process to find those answers, and why did you select the sources you did.
  • How did you handle the issue of answering questions using only resources on the free web, or if you used subscription resources, how did you handle that, given that your patron might not have the same access that you do.
  • Evaluate your street reference event: Was it a success? What does success mean, in this context? What would you do differently next time, to serve this same user group?

Your (group's) report must be posted to the course site. Give your post the category Street Reference.

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