INLS 501: Information Service Evaluation

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The goal of this assignment is to get you thinking about the elements that make for a good information service 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 what sorts of service models, what sorts of questions and/or answers are best suited to which media, what elements of the service provider-user interaction make for a satisfying experience and for what types of questions and in what media, etc.

This assignment has two parts: library and non-library.

Before you begin, select a medium: in person, email, web, chat, IM, SMS, whatever. Then seek information from two different services in this one medium. This of this as a "Service Safari," as described here. Of course media have affordances, so the medium will affect the interaction. Keeping the medium consistent, however, will allow you to focus on factors more specific to the interactions themselves.

You will conduct two different information-seeking interactions as a user, in your medium of choice. 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 that arose in another area of your life, 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 real information needs: you will have a more realistic experience as a user if you are, well, really a user, and not just pretending to be one. You will therefore be better able to evaluate the services and address your satisfaction with the information provided.

This assignment will be due early 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.

Part 1: Library reference service

Go in person to a reference desk in a library, or submit a question to a library-based online reference service of your choice.

The reference service you choose can be in one of the UNC libraries, another academic library locally, a local public library, a public library in your hometown, some random library of your choice, whatever. Be aware, however, that some libraries (particularly academic libraries) provide services only to individuals affiliated with their host institution.

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: Non-library information service

Go in person to an information desk, or submit a question to an online help or suport service of your choice.

The service you choose can be commercial or nonprofit. Examples of in-person services include: the information desk in a museum, a bookstore, or an airport. An examples of an online service includes: the live chat support offered by most online vendors.


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. I recommend structuring your post according the outline articulated in the A Better Site Visit Assignment sidebar, here. Compare and contrast between your two interactions. Include a mention of the medium you chose, and discuss the impact of the medium on your interactions, if any. 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.

Note: Some library-based asynchronous online 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.

Give your post the category Info Service Evaluation.


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