8 Pages

Evaluating the Reference Librarian

ByWilliam F. Young

This poetic effort appeared in a 1906 issue of Library Journal. I Literary merit aside, the sentiments are sincere and, however the grandiloquent tone, represent a perception and ideal not entirely of a bygone and more innocent age. Library users remain appreciative of the Reference Librarian's skills or, at the very least, seem satisfied with reference service as it's currently provided in American libraries. Typical are the results of a 1975 Reference Services Department User Survey taken at the University Libraries, State University of New York at Albany. In a five point scale, the average user expressed a degree of satisfaction of 4.5 with the answer given to a reference question. With little variation, faculty, staff and students all indicated similar appreciation nor was there any significant divergence by time of day.2 These highly positive findings coincide with other studies of user opinion of reference services in both public and academic library. 3 The work of reference librarians is favorably perceived by the public. However, as is well known within the profession, there does exist a rather extraordinary contradiction. The often cited unobstrusive studies by Crowley and

Childers,4 supported by more recent research, 5 indicate that reference librarians as a group answer questions correctly just slightly more than 50% of the time. While there are some variations in these results according to such factors as collection size and type of library, 6 the total picture is nonetheless disturbing.