Voices from the other side: User reports of New Zealand library reference encounters.

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Bidwell, P.
Library reference service
User satisfaction
User instruction
User education
Reference interviews
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Peer-reviewed status
Working paper
This research examines user satisfaction with the quality of reference service in New Zealand libraries, and reminds library staff of how it feels on the 'public' side of the library desk. It analyses the experiences of Open Polytechnic of New Zealand students asking reference questions in libraries, including whether users were given skills to research their own questions. A strongly positive or negative experience can be a powerful learning tool for library staff. Understanding what users feel went wrong provides important insights, making staff more empathetic when responding to information requests. The paper combines student comments with behavioural guidelines from the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) and key examples from international research. The research identified issues that inhibited appropriate responses, as well as useful strategies that were appreciated by users. Significant recommendations include Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) endorsement of RUSA guidelines, and the formation of a reference services special interest group. All libraries, particularly major reference libraries, should actively encourage staff awareness, library qualifications and training. Collaboration and information sharing should be encouraged, and could be assisted by a New Zealand-based reference discussion forum or web log. The active promotion of key staff as 'reference exemplars' who model good behaviours is a key recommendation. Libraries need to recognise the value of a checklist of essential elements for all reference encounters, and reference policies should include minimum standards for reference service that emphasise information literacy and user education.
Bidwell, P. (2007). Voices from the other side: User reports of New Zealand library reference encounters (Working Papers No. 2-07). Lower Hutt, New Zealand: The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.