problem solving models
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334 College & Research Libraries July 2001 Applying an Information Problem- solving Model to Academic Reference Work: Findings and Implications Janet R. Cottrell and Michael B. Eisenberg The usefulness of the Eisenberg–Berkowitz Information Problem-Solv- ing model as a useful categorization for academic reference encounters is examined. Major trends in the data include a high proportion of ques- tions about location and access of sources, a lack of synthesis or pro- duction activities, and a consistent presence of system problems (such as hardware problems) that impede the information-seeking process. The implications of these trends for the reference process, librarian train- ing, and campus organization are discussed. he rapid and prolific introduc- demic reference environment are not al- tion of electronic resources together homogeneous, most patrons are poses new challenges for aca- affiliated with the university in one way demic reference desks. To help or another. However, the variety in ques- meet these challenges, new ways of look- tions is almost endless; in response, re- ing at the reference process may help. searchers have devised ways to charac- Traditionally, reference encounters have terize them. Richard L. Derr categorized been considered in terms of the type of questions based on their conceptual pre- question or the type of patron involved. supposition:1 Recently, however, the reference encoun- • Existence (Does X exist?) ter has been considered more fully as a • Identity (What is X? Who is X?) process. After reviewing both models, • Properties (What are the features this study examines the usefulness of one of X?) specific model in the reference process— • Relation (How is X related to Y?) the Eisenberg–Berkowitz Information • Number (How many of X are Problem-Solving (IPS) model. there?) • Location (Where is X?) Characteristics of Reference • Time (When is X?) Questions • Action (What is X doing?) Much of the existing literature on char- Although this categorization offers an acterizing reference encounters focuses illuminating look at types of factual ques- on categorizing type of patron or type of tions, it does not apply well to other question. Although clientele in the aca- types of questions encountered at an aca- Janet R. Cottrell is Director of Information Access, Library and Information Services, at Kenyon College; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael B. Eisenberg is a Director and Professor in the Information School at the University of Washington; e-mail: email@example.com. 334 Applying an Information Problem-solving Model to Academic Reference Work 335 demic reference desk. Richard E. Bopp tually recorded at reference desks, as well described several types of reference ser- as the type of question or answer. Diane vices:2 M. Brown analyzed telephone reference • Ready reference: Ready reference questions to characterize them by Dewey questions are answered quickly by con- Decimal subject, answer format, and sulting one or two standard tools. level of complexity as indicated by the • Bibliographic verification: Facts specificity of the sources consulted.4 Tho- about publications are used to find or re- mas Childers, Cynthia Lopata, and Brian trieve the publications. Stafford studied reference questions • Interlibrary loans and document de- looking for a measure of different levels livery: This involves the verification of of difficulty and indicative measures to bibliographic information preparatory to stand for the concept of difficulty.5 interlibrary lending. • Information and referral services: Characteristics of the Reference These services involve the identification Process of community resources and agencies Studies such as those mentioned above that can respond to a query. are interesting from a theoretical and sta- • Research questions: Research ques- tistical point of view, but in the midst of a tions reflect broader user needs and are demanding desk shift, they lose some of more complex than ready reference ques- their appeal. More important, they place tions. They require more effort and care- their emphasis on the question itself; by ful review and may take place over time. doing so, they draw attention away from • Selective dissemination of informa- another important aspect of the reference tion: This service involves ongoing noti- encounter—the process. Particularly in fication and keeps researchers abreast of academic reference work, the process as- current developments in their fields. sumes great importance because it fre- • Database searches: This is mediated quently occurs as part of an undergradu- searching, often by appointment, away ate or graduate student’s educational from the desk. experience. In these encounters, it is not F. Wilfrid Lancaster and Amy J. Warner necessarily the patron, the question, or the used a somewhat similar scheme to char- answer that matters; rather, it is the pro- acterize reference encounters, categoriz- cess by which student and librarian solve ing information needs by purpose and an information problem and find infor- scope.3 They proposed two types of infor- mation appropriate to the task at hand. mation need: the need to locate and ob- Every basic reference textbook con- tain a copy of a particular document for tains information on conducting refer- which the author or title is known ence interviews, and many emphasize (“known-item need”); and the need to looking beyond the originally presented locate documents that are on a particular question. Ellen D. Sutton and Leslie E. subject or are capable of answering a par- Holt noted that, in fact, the entire inter- ticular question (“document delivery ca- view process can be seen as problem cen- pability”). In addition, they identified tered rather than question centered.6 three types of retrospective search: the The emphasis on process rather than need for a single item of factual data question was the basis for work by Carol (ready reference); the need for one or C. Kuhlthau, who developed a model of more documents on a subject (but less the library search process incorporating than the total literature); and the need for both cognitive and affective aspects.7–9 a comprehensive search in which as much Based on her studies of students per- of the literature as possible on a subject is forming library research, Kuhlthau’s retrieved during a period of time. model included six steps: Other researchers have focused on the 1. Initiation: Student receives assign- complexity or difficulty of questions ac- ment. 336 College & Research Libraries July 2001 2. Selection: Student selects general focus from the background information topic area. (Kuhlthau’s stage 4); and the Post-Focus 3. Exploration: Student explores ma- stage, where the student gathers specific terial on general topic. information to prove or disprove the the- 4. Formulation: Student focuses on sis and presents the findings (Kuhlthau’s more specific topic. stages 5 and 6). Reasoning that explic- 5. Collection: Student collects materi- itly labeling these stages would help als on focused topic. identify the actual information need, 6. Presentation: Student prepares and Kennedy, Cole, and Carter next deter- presents finished assignment. mined appropriate search strategies for Kuhlthau emphasized three main each stage: high-recall searches for the findings of major importance to librar- Pre-Focus stage, high-recall/high-preci- ians: sion searches for the Semi-Focus stage, • Library searching is a process over and high-precision searches for the Post- time and not a single event. Focus stage. This groundbreaking re- • Library searching is a holistic event search illustrates the utility that informa- rather than a simple activity. tion-processing models can have in ref- • Library searching commonly ini- erence work. tially increases rather than decreases un- certainty. Eisenberg-Berkowitz Model Kuhlthau recognized that her model Michael B. Eisenberg and Robert E. had implications for reference practice: Berkowitz describe a six-stage model of reference librarians who have become Information Problem-Solving (IPS).12 At aware of the stages in the information its most general level, the IPS model sim- search process model “listen for an indi- ply asserts that whenever students are cation of the stage in the process of the faced with an information problem (or user and particularly note when some- with making any decision that is based one is ‘in the dip’ [of uncertainty] and on information), they can use a system- needs some extra help to formulate a re- atic, problem-solving process. At its more search focus.”10 detailed levels, the model includes six stages in the information problem-solv- Both the head of the reference ing process, each having two specific department and the researcher/ components: librarian agreed from the beginning 1. Task Definition that because the research relies on 1.1 Define the problem. the reference process, it must be 1.2 Identify the information require- almost totally unintrusive. ments of the problem. 2. Information-seeking Strategies Lynn Kennedy, Charles Cole, and Su- 2.1 Determine the range of possible san Carter applied Kuhlthau’s model sources (brainstorm). specifically to academic reference work, 2.2 Evaluate the different possible using a simplified version of it to assess sources to determine priorities. and explicitly label undergraduates’ in- 3. Location and Access formation needs as expressed at the ref- 3.1 Locate sources (intellectually and erence desk and then designing appro- physically). priate search strategies for each phase.11 3.2 Find information within sources. They first reduced Kuhlthau’s model to 4. Use of Information three stages: the Pre-Focus stage, in 4.1 Engage (read, see, hear) the infor- which the student selects a topic and lo- mation in a source. cates general information (Kuhlthau’s 4.2 Extract relevant information from stages 1, 2, and 3); the Semi-Focus stage, a source. in which the student chooses a specific 5. Synthesis Applying an Information Problem-solving Model to Academic Reference Work 337 5.1 Organize information from mul- nents of the Eisenberg–Berkowitz model. tiple sources. Consultation with the model’s 5.2 Present information. codeveloper helped clarify questions 6. Evaluation about how to code certain types of en- 6.1 Judge the product (effectiveness). counters.14 The remaining descriptions 6.2 Judge the information problem- were then coded, and the entire set of 170 solving process (efficiency). encounters was treated as one prelimi- Although its stages often occur in the nary data set. order listed, the model allows jumping The second data set consists of brief between stages or looping back to previ- descriptions of another 123 reference en- ous steps as needed. counters from the following semester. Colloquially called the Big Six because These encounters were recorded and of its six steps, this model has been coded according to the methodologies widely adopted in education circles; the developed with the first set. K–12 information literacy standards for The second set of data was collected many states are based on it. As more and in an attempt to refine and verify the ear- more colleges and universities develop lier set. However, the constraints oper- information literacy competencies, aca- ating during the first phase were still op- demic librarians also are becoming famil- erating during the second phase, so the iar with its potential (see Mary Warner methodology did not change substan- for an example13). tially. In addition, some characteristics of Considering the Eisenberg–Berkowitz the reference area (including database as- model in the academic reference setting sortment and printing procedures) suggests the following research ques- changed substantially during the inter- tions: val between the two collection periods. • Can academic reference encoun- The data from the two phases were there- ters be characterized using the fore analyzed and reported separately. Eisenberg-Berkowitz IPS model? Do they fit gracefully? Constraints on Data Collection • Can the IPS model tell anything Because the data result from reference about how to approach the encounters, encounters in a university library, great in terms of both answering the question care was taken during data collection. and helping the client? If so, what impli- Both the head of the reference department cations does this have? and the researcher/librarian agreed from The remainder of this paper describes the beginning that because the research an attempt to study these questions. relies on the reference process, it must be almost totally unintrusive. In other Methods words, the reference process itself must Collection and Coding of Data Sets always take precedence over the needs of Two sets of data were collected and used the researcher. This placed severe con- in this study. The first set consists of brief straints on the research process, especially descriptions of 170 reference encounters during data collection. at a midsize state university’s main li- Constraints on the data collection in- brary. The encounters took place during clude: a weekly 2.5- to 3-hour midday, midweek • cannot elicit certain types of data desk shift over the course of one semes- (patron status, age, affiliation, other de- ter. The reference librarian jotted down mographics; too invasive); very brief notes during the shift, then ex- • cannot have an external observer panded them as soon as possible after the or machine recording the encounters (un- shift ended. The first fifty descriptions ethical to tape without consent; impos- were examined to see whether they could sible to observe session closely without be characterized in terms of the compo- being in the way); 338 College & Research Libraries July 2001 • cannot take extensive notes during • relaying information about the the encounters or between encounters task to the librarian. (too intrusive during encounter; no time 1.2 Identify information requirements between encounters); of problem. • cannot have a checklist visible to Realizing specific types of information the patron (too intrusive/disruptive to required for a project. Behaviors specific patron). to the academic reference environment The compromise was that the re- might include: searcher/librarian carried a small pad • discussing assignment or task in and jotted down a few keywords during terms of: or right after encounter. Often the re- —number of sources needed; searcher/librarian would do this any- —type of sources needed (book, jour- way (for example, to jot down search nal articles, scholarly, popular, etc.); terms while working on a search with a —type of information needed (focus, patron), so this activity was considered level of detail, information not needed). part of the ordinary reference process. 2. Information-seeking Strategies Clearly, this meant that the re- 2.1 Determine range of sources. searcher/librarian must reconstruct the Brainstorming possible sources of in- encounters from memory, using the brief formation to meet the requirements. Be- notes jotted down during the encounter. haviors specific to the academic reference The goal was to do this as soon as pos- environment might include: sible after the end of the shift; occasion- • discussion about what has been ally, this was not possible and some time tried already; elapsed between the encounter and the • discussion about likely fields (hu- summarization. manities, social sciences, etc.—starting One additional requirement was al- points on main menu); ways enforced on data collection: must • discussion about likely indexes to use; record all encounters during the shift, not • discussion about likely keywords; just the memorable ones. This require- • discussion about potentially use- ment is essential to compiling a fully rep- ful print sources; resentative data set, even though it de- • discussion of appropriate sources mands a strong commitment on the part (print, Web, etc.). of the librarian and may limit the num- 2.2 Evaluate possible sources to deter- ber of data collectors in a full-blown study. mine priorities. Deciding which of sources are likely Clarification of Coding to be most useful. In the academic refer- Guidelines were needed to promote con- ence environment, this stage is often sistent coding of the encounters. The fol- rolled in with 2.1; specific behaviors lowing list, developed as a preliminary might include: coding aid, includes brief definitions of • picking which database to try first; each component from Eisenberg and • looking through a list of citations Berkowitz, then identifies behaviors spe- to select useful items. cific to the academic reference setting.15 3. Location and Access 1. Task Definition 3.1 Locate sources intellectually and 1.1 Define problem. physically. Determining what is required for an Finding sources of information, in- assignment, outlining tasks, determining cluding specific books, articles, full-text order. Behaviors specific to the academic sources, etc. In the academic reference reference environment might include: setting, this might include: • consulting the assignment; • questions about location of specific • focusing/clarifying the topic (of call numbers, reference books, special paper, etc.); collections, etc.; Applying an Information Problem-solving Model to Academic Reference Work 339 • ILL (suggesting ILL, accepting ILL • printing full-text sources; requests for processing). • printing Web sites. 3.2 Find information within sources. 5. Synthesis Behaviors specific to the academic ref- 5.1 Organize information from mul- erence environment might include: tiple sources. • using the index or table of contents Integrating information from a range in print sources; of sources. In an academic reference en- • skimming full-text sources online; vironment, this might include: • skimming print sources. • discussion of how information 4. Use of Information from different sources will be used; 4.1 Engage. • writing a bibliography after com- Using a source to gain information. paring formats from more than one style Behaviors specific to the academic refer- guide. ence environment might include: 5.2 Present information. • reading full text or Web page Creating a product such as a paper, online; presentation, illustration, final project, • reading print source (atlas, fact etc. This stage is seldom observed in the book, reference book, etc.); academic reference setting. • obtaining nondirectional facts 6. Evaluation from reference librarian. 6.1 Judge the product (effectiveness). 4.2 Extract Determining whether the information Taking notes or recording information need has actually been met effectively, as from a source. In an academic reference determined by the final product or environment, this might include: project. This step is seldom observed in • taking notes from full-text or print the academic reference setting because sources; the product has not yet been created. FIGURE 1 Percentage of Encounters In Which IPS Stage or System Problem Was Observed (Set 1) IPS stages 1.1 à 6.2 plus System 340 College & Research Libraries July 2001 FIGURE 2 Percentage of Encounters in Which Each IPS Main Stage Was Observed (Set 1) TD ISS L&A IU S E 6.2 Judge the IPS process (efficiency). Results Determining how well the information For each of the two data sets, the stages problem-solving process worked. In the aca- observed in each encounter were tallied, demic reference setting, this might include: along with any system problems. Results • periodically evaluating whether were compiled for the number of en- useful hits are being found; counters in which each of the twelve IPS • periodically evaluating whether substages (and system problems) were correct database is being used; observed and for the total number of • reference librarian asking patron stages observed in each encounter. The whether useful information is being data sets from the first and second phases found. are presented separately. One additional coding category was developed to deal with problems en- Phase One Data Set countered during reference that were Frequency of IPS Stages outside the scope of the IPS process. Figure 1 shows the percentage of encoun- These problems, tentatively labeled “Sys- ters in the first data set (a total of 170 en- tem problems” were often (though not counters) in which each of the model’s always) hardware problems. They were twelve substages were observed. The not stages in the information process but, percentage of encounters in which sys- rather, directly impeded the IPS process, tem problems were observed is noted at often by preventing access to an infor- the far right of figure 1. mation source. Despite the coding guidelines, there Each encounter was evaluated for any were still some instances in which the indication of any of the twelve IPS sub- coder was unsure how to classify an ob- components plus any indication of sys- servation. Often this uncertainty had to tem problems. Any given encounter could do with which substage the observation exhibit any number of the possible cod- reflected within the six major steps; in ing components. other words, the coder might recognize Applying an Information Problem-solving Model to Academic Reference Work 341 an observation as task definition but be information from diverse fields of study unsure whether to code it as 1.1 or 1.2. in their final product. Because the uncertainty was at the sub- As figure 3 shows, more than half the stage level and not the main stage level, reference encounters in the first phase the data were then collapsed across sub- included just one of the twelve informa- stages. Figure 2 illustrates the percent- tion problem-solving subcomponents. age of encounters in which each IPS main Most of these single-stage encounters in- stage was observed, regardless of sub- volved location and access: 44 percent of stage coding. all encounters included only stage 3.1 ac- In both figures 1 and 2, the most no- tivities. table features are the high frequency of In some encounters (the “zero” cat- location and access observations (step 3 egory in figure 3), no IPS components in the model), and the low number of were observed. These cases represent en- synthesis observations (step 5 in the counters in which only system problems model). (outside the IPS process) were observed. Nearly 90 percent of all encounters in- cluded location and access, primarily System Problems characterized by physically or intellec- As indicated in figure 1, about 16 per- tually locating sources (3.1); in fact, 44 cent of the encounters in the first phase percent of all encounters included only included system problems, defined dur- stage 3.1 activities. Generally, the stage ing the coding as problems encountered 3.1 activities included either giving di- during reference that were outside the rections for locating call numbers in the scope of the IPS process, often (though stacks, departments of the library, and so not always) hardware problems. System on (physical location) or helping patrons problems were not steps in the IPS pro- find likely sources of information by us- cess; instead, they impeded the IPS pro- ing indexes, databases, and so on (intel- cess, typically by preventing access to lectual location). an information source or extraction of Even the two cases in which synthe- information from a source. Examples of sis was observed were not clear-cut: they system problems include microcom- represent encounters in which students puter “freeze-ups,” server crashes, discussed how they planned to combine printer malfunctions, access problems FIGURE 3 Number of Stages per Encounter (Set 1) Zero One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine 342 College & Research Libraries July 2001 FIGURE 4 Percentage of Encounters in Which IPS Stage or a System Problem Was Observed (set 2) on databases requiring university ID The data then were collapsed across (bar code access), slow or no response substages in case of any uncertainty at from remote databases, and so on. En- the substage level. Figure 5 shows the counters in which a badly designed user percentage of encounters in which each interface impeded the IPS process also IPS main stage was observed, regardless were designated system problems. In of substage coding. one case, for example, even the printed In figures 4 and 5, as in figures 1 and 2, instructions for using a specific database the greatest number of observations are in provided no clue on how to print the the location and access stage of the model, full-text findings. and the least number of observations are When the system problem clearly im- in the synthesis stage. Nearly 80 percent peded a specific step in the IPS process, of the encounters in this data set include both the system problem and the specific location and access activities, primarily the IPS stage were coded. For example, the physical or intellectual location of sources case just described (badly designed in- (3.1). In fact, 46 percent of all encounters terface) was coded as involving a system included only stage 3.1 activities of physi- problem during information extraction cal or intellectual location. (4.2). Number of Stages per Encounter Phase Two Data Set As figure 6 indicates, over 60 percent of Frequency of IPS Stages the reference encounters included just one Figure 4 shows the percentage of encoun- of the twelve IPS components. Most of ters (out of the total of 123 in the second these (46% of the total set) involved only data set) in which each of the model’s stage 3.1 location and access activities. twelve substages were observed. The percentage of encounters in which sys- System Problems tem problems were observed is noted at As figure 4 indicates, about 15 percent of the far right of the graph. the encounters in the second data set in- Applying an Information Problem-solving Model to Academic Reference Work 343 FIGURE 5 Percentage of Encounters in Which IPS Main Stage Was Observed TD ISS L&A IU S E cluded system problems. Because the in the IPS process, both the system prob- printing process changed substantially lem and the specific IPS stage were between phases one and two, fewer coded. However, if the IPS stage was not printing problems occurred. Many of the clear or relevant (e.g., registering for system problems in this data set con- courses), only the system problem was cerned IPS-related activities that a patron recorded. might reasonably expect to accomplish in the workstation area, which were ei- Discussion ther not available at all or impeded by General Findings lack of a clear interface and instructions. The constraints on data collection did af- For example, several system problems fect the research process. Without the use concerned using campus e-mail software of an external recorder, detailed notes, (which is unavailable on these worksta- or checklists during the actual reference encounter, the description of each en- Librarians can use the model to counter was necessarily brief. Even ascertain where the student is in the though these brief descriptions were an- research process, advise accordingly, notated and coded as soon as possible and verify that all relevant steps are afterward, inevitable delays and incom- covered. plete memories affected the quality of the data. Thus, it would be a mistake to tions) or registering online for credit overinterpret the current data. courses (which is available but may be Despite the data collection and cod- blocked by passwords, locks, or other ing challenges, the encounters did seem features of the system that may require to fit gracefully into the model. Three intervention by other offices such as the trends stand out: (1) location and access registrar or accounting). activities were observed in many en- As in phase one, when the system counters; (2) synthesis activities were ob- problem clearly impeded a specific step served in very few encounters; and (3) 344 College & Research Libraries July 2001 in many encounters, only one stage of information problems) but directly im- the model was observed. These trends peded it by preventing access to an in- are consistent across both data sets. formation source or extraction of infor- These trends are also consistent with mation from a source. what might be expected intuitively. Many of the reference encounters in- Implications cluded questions about location and ac- Although the results of categorizing aca- cess, and about half the encounters were demic reference events into the IPS “one-shot” questions that concerned model may be unsurprising, they still can only one step of the IPS process, prima- provide insight into the academic refer- rily location and access. These findings ence process and how best to prepare li- will not surprise many reference librar- brarians to meet it. ians, who already feel they spend much The Eisenberg–Berkowitz IPS model of their time giving location directions. also provides a useful checklist as refer- The lack of stage 5 synthesis activities ence librarians address specific patron also is not surprising because the work- requests. Librarians can use the model stations in the reference area do not sup- to ascertain where the student is in the port application software such as word research process, advise accordingly, and processing, database management, verify that all relevant steps are covered. spreadsheet, or graphics packages. As This is particularly useful for novice ref- Eisenberg and Doug Johnson pointed erence librarians who may feel over- out, students often use such tools dur- whelmed by the collection itself and the ing synthesis; without the presence of the vast range of questions confronting appropriate tools, the stage is unlikely them: it provides an easily accessible to be observed.16 “handle” or entry point. Librarians in wired academic librar- Using the IPS model also can prompt ies will not be startled to hear that librarians to think about their own natu- slightly under 20 percent of the questions ral tendencies in approaching reference revealed “system problems,” problems work. If the researcher’s experiences are that were outside the scope of the IPS any indication, using the model to ana- process (usually hardware problems, not lyze reference encounters may raise FIGURE 6 Percentage of Encounters with Number of Stages Covered (Set 2) Zero One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Applying an Information Problem-solving Model to Academic Reference Work 345 awareness of which stages come natu- as many are, this is a good reason to do rally and which ones may need more at- so: to create one place on campus where tention, not necessarily in specific en- students can work through all the infor- counters but, rather, in general. mation problem-solving steps including Awareness of the IPS model can help brainstorming, locating, using, evaluat- librarians keep the reference process on ing, and synthesizing information. In- track. For example, when a system or stead of a reference area that focuses only hardware problem impedes a patron, the on database searches, schools who wish natural tendency is to try to solve it. to emphasize all aspects of information Sometimes, however, it is useful (indeed literacy may choose to create an infor- necessary) to step back and look at the mation commons that includes tools to problem in IPS terms. For example, if a create printed or electronic information printer is malfunctioning, the patron can- products. not extract information (step 4.2). If the Such a facility would need to be printer cannot be fixed quickly, the real staffed by people who are familiar with solution from the patron’s point of view all the IPS steps and can support not just is not to fuss with the printer but, rather, database searches, but also other aspects to redirect the output to a working of product synthesis, including applica- printer or, if that is not possible, to reen- tions software, multimedia production, ter the search on a properly functioning and effective writing. This may mean workstation and print the results there. pulling together services that ordinarily Analyzing the problem in IPS terms may reside in different locations such as helps refocus the effort onto the patron’s the library reference area, the writing actual need. center, the computer center, and so on.17 One unanticipated implication of this Administrative arguments for com- research applies to an aspect of campus bining libraries, computing centers, or planning. As colleges and universities other campus services often are based on begin to accept information problem- budgetary or logistical considerations: solving models such as the Eisenberg– consolidation saves money and space. In Berkowitz model, they are taking a closer practice, however, these savings may be look at how to promote core information difficult to realize. The current study, al- competencies on their campuses. But the though preliminary, indicates that there current research indicates that one of the may be a stronger rationale for collabo- areas normally thought to promote these ration or consolidation, a rationale based competencies—the library—is, in fact, on providing better services to students. not providing resources for major stages of the model: the stages having to do Future Research with creation and evaluation of the prod- The findings of this study suggest sev- uct. eral promising avenues for future re- Synthesis and product evaluation will search. One obvious follow-up would be not occur in the library reference work- to compare these findings with those of station area until “synthesis tools” (word other academic environments, including processing, spreadsheet, database, different kinds of schools. graphics, or citation management soft- Moreover, these findings could be en- ware, laser quality printers, and so on) hanced by combining the observational are available there in addition to the more techniques used here with interviews or typical library databases. Adding tools other substantive discussion. Follow-up such as these to the reference area toolbox interviews with patrons would provide is controversial because they add greatly qualitative data allowing a more in- to the support burden. depth understanding of their perceptions However, if schools are going to com- of the reference encounters. For example, bine their library and computing center, it would be particularly interesting to de- 346 College & Research Libraries July 2001 termine whether the patrons were aware process. In schools where computing of going through a series of stages dur- support is separate from library support, ing their work. computing help desks probably field In schools with active information lit- many questions related to the synthesis eracy programs, the techniques de- stage, as students rely on application scribed here could be used as part of a software to produce papers, slides, and pre- and posttest to help assess the effec- so on, just as campus writing centers may tiveness of the programs. Conversely, in- focus on task definition, synthesis, and terview techniques could be used to de- evaluation as they help students tackle termine whether patrons already had major writing assignments. In schools had any information literacy instruction. where computing and library support Finally, given the implications for have been combined, the research tech- campus planning discussed above, com- niques described here may help evalu- parable data from different service points ate the effectiveness of the combined ser- on the same campus would provide in- vice points in addressing the full spec- sight into whether and how students re- trum of information problem-solving quest and receive aid throughout the IPS tasks. Notes 1. Richard L. Derr, “Questions: Definitions, Structure, and Classification,” RQ 24 (winter 1984): 186–190. 2. Richard E. Bopp, “History and Varieties of Reference Services,” in Reference and Informa- tion Services: An Introduction, ed. Richard E. Bopp and Linda C. Smith (Englewood CO: Librar- ies Unlimited, Inc., 1995). 3. F. Wilfrid Lancaster and Amy J. Warner, “Some Basics of Information Retrieval,” chap. 1 in Information Retrieval Today (Arlington, VA: Information Resources Pr., 1993). 4. Diane M. Brown, “Telephone Reference Questions: A Characterization by Subject, An- swer Format, and Level of Complexity,” RQ 24 (spring 1985): 290–303. 5. Thomas Childers, Cynthia Lopata, and Brian Stafford, “Measuring the Difficulty of Ref- erence Questions,” RQ 31 (winter 1991): 237–43. 6. Ellen D. Sutton and Leslie E. Holt, “The Reference Interview,” in Reference and Informa- tion Services: An introduction, ed. Richard E. Bopp and Linda C. Smith (Englewood CO.: Librar- ies Unlimited, Inc., 1995). 7. Carol Collier Kuhlthau, “Developing a Model of the Library Search Process: Cognitive and Affective Aspects,” RQ 28 (winter 1988): 232–42. 8. ———, Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1993). 9. ———, “Impact of the Information Search Process Model on Library Services,” RQ 34 (fall 1994): 21–26. 10. Ibid., 23. 11. Lynn Kennedy, Charles Cole, and Susan Carter, “Connecting Online Search Strategies and Information Needs: A User-centered, Focus-labeling Approach,” RQ 36 (summer 1997): 562–68, and “The Optimization of Online Searches through the Labeling of a Dynamic, Situa- tion-dependent Information Need: The Reference Interview and Online Searching for Under- graduates Doing a Social-Science Assignment,” Information Processing and Management 32 (Nov. 1996): 709–17. 12. Michael B. Eisenberg and Robert E. Berkowitz, Information Problem-solving: The Big Six Skills Approach to Library & Information Skills Instruction (Greenwich, CT.: Ablex, 1990). 13. Mary Warner, “Western Carolina University’s Model of Integrating Information Lit- eracy: Partnering the First-Year Composition Instructor, Students, and a Personal Librarian,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Com- munication, Chicago, Apr. 1–4, 1998. 14. Eisenberg, personal communication, Apr. 20, 1998. 15. Eisenberg and Berkowitz, Information Problem-solving. 16. Michael B. Eisenberg and Doug Johnson, Computer Skills for Information Problem-solving: Learning and Teaching Technology in Context (Syracuse, N.Y.: ERIC Clearinghouse on Informa- tion and Technology, 1996). ERIC ED 392463. Applying an Information Problem-solving Model to Academic Reference Work 347 17. For a more extensive discussion of integrating research and technology support in li- braries, see Chris Ferguson, “‘Shaking the Conceptual Foundations,’ Too: Integrating Research and Technology Support for the Next Generation of Information Service,” College & Research Libraries 61 (July 2000): 300–311.
Shared by: Richard Cataman