Reference services are vital in an information centric society. When a person approaches a reference desk they expect that professional to guide them towards a sufficient answer to their query. It is important to understand and evaluate those services and sources, especially for information professionals, to insure continued or increased quality of service. The answers to reference questions can have far reaching effects, from asking how to start a business to wanting to learn more about cancer treatments. Information professionals meet many demands and fulfill many service gaps in communities, especially those which are small, rural, or poor.
I have explored several reference services and sources on this blog, which you can find on the pages linked in the navigation bar. The Information Portal is essentially a pathfinder, or a document which provides sources to learn more about a specific subject. These are created for certain topics to provide ease of access to information by users. These can be created in anticipation of a query or at the request of one. These will point users towards relevant websites, databases, controlled vocabulary to search by, periodicals, etc.
The Reference Source Reviews I and II provide an evaluation of different types of reference sources used by information professionals. These sources can be encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, or indexes, among several others. Information professionals must constantly evaluate reference sources to ensure they are relevant and useful to those who access them. In a medical setting or when dealing with medical information some reference sources may quickly become obsolete as new materials are published and new information discovered. Comprehensive review of available sources is another method of maintaining quality reference service.
The Reference Services Plan is a way for information professionals to develop quality reference services right out of the gate. Gaining an understanding of user type, information setting, and instituting a method of testing the success of these services are just some of the advantages of creating a reference services plan.
The Reference Services Evaluation is a strategy to evaluate existing services. This evaluation proposes methods for testing efficiency and accuracy of reference services, including the sample population to be evaluated, the method for the evaluation, tools required, and the method for synthesizing results so change can be implemented if needed based on any insights gained by the results. Evaluating existing services is another technique for testing the relevancy of reference services just as evaluating reference sources which information professionals use to fulfill queries keeps the sources up to date and reduces sources which are no longer usable for their original purpose.
The Database Analysis evaluates databases in which many information professionals as well as non-professional users find sources to answer queries. Databases are as susceptible to issues of usability as print resources and reference services. The analysis tests for accuracy as well as exploring how the database can be searched to effectively deliver relevant search results. Different databases can contain vastly different sources of information, exploring the scope of each database allows information professionals to more accurately pinpoint correct sources when performing a query search.
Understanding reference sources and services is not just important for information professionals. We are all users of information and so being able to discern “good” information from “bad” information is a useful skill for everyone. Information professionals are not infallible and the sources and services they provide aren’t either. In this day and age misinformation is as easily accessible, if not more so, than the correct information. It is up to the users of that information to question everything. I hope these pages provide some assistance in the process of evaluating your own sources of information, be it from a library, the World Wide Web, or a book bought at a yard sale.