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Bb Version 813 Reference Interview Analysis Aspen Walker

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  • 1. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker Running Head: THE MYSTERY OF THE BUG EGG & THE LEGENDARY FLOWER The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis Project Elizabeth Aspen Walker Emporia State University LI 813 Dr. Lillard November 3, 2007
  • 2. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker Contents Reference Observation Forms i-x Reference Interview Summary xi-xii Analysis 1-5 References 6 Photos 7
  • 3. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker -i- Physical Library Reference Observation Form #1 Name: Type of Library: Public Date and Time of Interview: Sunday, October 7, 2007 at 1 p.m. Question Asked: I need information about a bug egg and a flower. Your Actual Question: I am writing a paper on a mysterious Fortean phenomenon that may be an urban legend in the making. I need to know if there are visual similarities between the green lacewing’s [a kind of insect] eggs and the legendary Buddhist flower called the udumbara, which is only supposed to bloom every 3,000 years. People across the globe claim they are finding “udumbara” blooming in unlikely places, including oleander trees in California, and on a Buddha’s face in a Korean temple. Skeptics claim that the flowers are really green lacewing eggs. I’d like to decide for myself. Can you help me find a picture of green lacewing eggs, and a traditional Buddhist source that describes the appearance of the udumbara (text or illustration)? Was the reference desk visible and easy to identify? Yes Describe the reference desk area...was it an approachable place? Yes, it was situated between the public access computer terminals, and the reference collection, and just a few feet away from circulation. It was immediately visible upon walking into the library. Was the librarian approachable? Did he/she indicate approachability through: Eye contact Yes- eventually. She was reading when I approached, and did not glance up or acknowledge me until I had been standing there for about one minute. Smiling and nodding Yes- after she noticed I was waiting. Posture No- stayed seated, and physically oriented towards the piece of paper she was reading when I approached the desk. After I sat down, she turned towards the computer terminal to begin the search. Did librarian indicate interest in your and your query through: Encouraging Comments Yes- Remarked “How interesting” after she understood my information need more. Smiling and nodding No Posture Yes- She turned the computer monitor so I could see it, and looked up to make certain I was following her process.
  • 4. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker - ii - Did the librarian conduct the intereview using: Open questions Yes- at the very beginning. Hypothetical Questions No Closed questions Yes Did the librarian include you in the search process by: Explaining what he/she was doing Yes Providing Instruction No Seeking clarification during the search No Identifying sources Yes How did the librarian communicate the information? Provided name of source orally? In writing? Yes- orally Accompanied and found answer in source? She accompanied me, but she did not stay to help me find the information. Rather, she showed me several shelves of encyclopedias (religion, mythology and general) and said I should search through those. Gave answer orally? In writing? No Did the librarian follow up by: Offering additional help? No Asking if the response complete answered your question? No Checking on you after you left the desk? No Was the environment conducive to good reference service? Why or why not? Yes- if the librarian takes the time to truly understand the question, takes an interest in helping the patron, uses quality search terms, and utilizes all of the resources available. The Library offers an extensive reference collection onsite and online. The area is arranged so that the librarians can see the reference desk from the stacks (and vice versa), as well as the computer area. Three librarians were on staff at the desk, which seemed to match the relatively high level of traffic at the library that day. However, the librarians stayed behind the desk and typed, read or chatted. Were you satisfied with the answer to your query? Why or why not? No, not really. I did not come away from the experience with a picture of the green lacewing egg, a description/illustration
  • 5. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker - iii - of the flower, or with a new direction/referral for my continued search. Rather, the librarian typed a very specific search term “green lacewing eggs” into the library catalog, and was surprised when nothing came up (in my opinion, the search terms, in this case, should have been more broad for opac searching- “green lacewing” or probably even just “insect”). The only online database she searched was the Ebsco magazine database. She did not search any of the scientific or general reference databases the library subscribes to. She also did not try looking on the internet. After the catalog and Ebsco did not yield any results from her query, she walked me over the encyclopedias, pointed to a few areas I should browse, and left. Were you satisfied with how your query was handled? Why or why not? No. I did not feel that my question was of importance to the librarian; her search strategy was poorly-crafted and short- sighted, and I did not leave the library with a single piece of information. Her search strategy did not seem very professional or informed. Are there aspects of this librarian's behavior that you would like to emulate? I did appreciate that she turned the computer screen so I could see it, explained what she was doing as she typed, and walked me over to the stacks. Are there aspects of this librarian's behavior that you would like to avoid? A more formal reference interview (following the RUSA guidelines), and a more thoughtful search strategy probably could have yielded happier results, especially given the extensive resources at hand. It was also a good reminder that the reference librarian should follow up with the patron, make certain that their “question has been fully answered”), and when necessary, refer the patron to other resources that may fulfill their information need. Would you return to this librarian? Probably not. I would try asking another librarian on duty, and would be willing to wait until they were not helping another client. Other comments?
  • 6. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker - iv - Physical Library Reference Observation Form #2 Name: Type of Library: Academic Date and Time of Interview: Monday, October 15, 1 p.m. Question Asked: I need information about a bug egg and a flower. Your Actual Question: I am writing a paper on a mysterious Fortean phenomenon that may be an urban legend in the making. I need to know if there are visual similarities between the green lacewing’s [a kind of insect] eggs and the legendary Buddhist flower called the udumbara, which is only supposed to bloom every 3,000 years. People across the globe claim they are finding “udumbara” blooming in unlikely places, including oleander trees in California, and on a Buddha’s face in a Korean temple. Skeptics claim that the flowers are really green lacewing eggs. I’d like to decide for myself. Can you help me find a picture of green lacewing eggs, and a traditional Buddhist source that describes the appearance of the udumbara (text or illustration)? Was the reference desk visible and easy to identify? Yes. It was located immediately inside the library’s front doors. Describe the reference desk area...was it an approachable place? Yes. It was cheerfully decorated for Halloween, and the reference librarian acknowledged me as soon as I approached the desk. Was the librarian approachable? Did he/she indicate approachability through: Eye contact Yes Smiling and nodding Yes Posture Yes Did librarian indicate interest in your and your query through: Encouraging Comments Yes Smiling and nodding Yes Posture Yes Did the librarian conduct the interview using: Open questions Yes
  • 7. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker -v- Hypothetical Questions No Closed questions Yes Did the librarian include you in the search process by: Explaining what he/she was doing Yes Providing Instruction Yes- somewhat. Seeking clarification during the search Yes Identifying sources Yes How did the librarian communicate the information? Provided name of source orally? In writing? Yes- in writing. Accompanied and found answer in source? No Gave answer orally? In writing? No Did the librarian follow up by: Offering additional help? No Asking if the response complete answered your question? No Checking on you after you left the desk? No Was the environment conducive to good reference service? Why or why not? For the most part. The desk was very close to the reference books. However, the librarian’s back is towards the stacks, and a tall bank of computers further obscures the librarian’s view of users in the stacks. This offers the benefit of seeing library users who enter the library, but it does eclipse the librarian’s view of patrons who are knee-deep in the search process. Were you satisfied with the answer to your query? Why or why not? Somewhat. The librarian did offer a partial written list of resources that might yield the information I was looking for and recommended an in-depth search on the comprehensive Ebsco site, as well as ProQuest. The written list covered Buddhism, myth, and urban legend, but she did not provide scientific resources that might include a picture of green lacewing eggs. She also recommended that I conduct an internet Google™ search if I couldn’t find what I needed in the library. She did not offer to help me compose the search strategy. I did not find what I needed in the resources she recommended. Were you satisfied with how your query was handled? Why or why not? Somewhat. I was pleased by her prompt and kind response as I approached the desk. The librarian did show me a
  • 8. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker - vi - few leads, but I had to “invite myself” behind the desk to see what she was doing. I think this surprised her at first, but then she seemed to understand that I wanted to be involved in the search process. I appreciated the hand-written list of call numbers she provided, as well as the database suggestions. She left the desk right after I posed my question, and no additional library staff checked to see if I was finding what I needed. Are there aspects of this librarian's behavior that you would like to emulate? Immediate response to the patron, hand-written list of resources, good verbal description of where I could find the books on the list. Are there aspects of this librarian's behavior that you would like to avoid? Remember to follow up with the patron, or ask the next librarian on duty to follow up. Would you return to this librarian? Yes, but I would be very proactive in asserting exactly what I needed, and seeking additional help. Other comments?
  • 9. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker - vii - Virtual Reference Observation Form Name: Service (Name and URL): Format: Synchronous (chat) Date and Time of Interview: Monday, October 15, 1:30 p.m. Question Asked: I need information about a bug egg and a flower. Your Actual Question: I am writing a paper on a mysterious Fortean phenomenon that may be an urban legend in the making. I need to know if there are visual similarities between the green lacewing’s [a kind of insect] eggs and the legendary Buddhist flower called the udumbara, which is only supposed to bloom every 3,000 years. People across the globe claim they are finding “udumbara” blooming in unlikely places, including oleander trees in California, and on a Buddha’s face in a Korean temple. Skeptics claim that the flowers are really green lacewing eggs. I’d like to decide for myself. Can you help me find a picture of green lacewing eggs, and a traditional Buddhist source that describes the appearance of the udumbara (text or illustration)? Was it clear when you entered the site that you could submit individual questions? Yes. Was it easy to find the virtual reference desk on the web site? Yes. How many clicks did it take to get to the place where you could ask your question? One. Was the librarian approachable? Yes. Did he/she indicate approachability through: An attractive design (appearance) Yes User friendly language Yes Effective design (usability) Yes Immediate response (even if automatic) No Providing identification Yes Did librarian indicate interest in your and your query through: Neutral Comments No Emoticons No
  • 10. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker - viii - Use of your name Yes Language Yes Did the librarian conduct the interview using: Open questions Yes- at the very beginning. Hypothetical Questions No Closed questions Yes If a form was used, did it include: N/A Open questions Yes No Unsure Hypothetical Questions Yes No Unsure Closed questions Yes No Unsure Did the librarian include you in the search process by: Explaining what he/she was doing Yes Providing Instruction No Seeking clarification during the search No Identifying sources Yes Using a co-browser to demonstrate No- but I was able to see the web pages she found after she conducted the search. How did the librarian communicate the information? Provided name of source No Provided a link to a source Yes Gave answer Yes- somewhat. She was able to find pictures of green lacewing eggs, and a few stories about the possible udumbara flowers blooming in CA and Korea. However, she did not find a traditional Buddhist description/illustration of an udumbara, and did not seem particularly keen on conducting this part of the search (I asked for ideas about more scholarly places to look for this information, especially online databases, since she only conducted the search using Google™. She told me to visit my library and ask for help there).
  • 11. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker - ix - Used a co-browser to find answer together No Did the librarian follow up by: Offering additional help? No. But I pressed for it. Asking if the response complete answered your question? Yes. Several times. In this case, this question seemed premature, as if she was trying to end the session as fast as possible, even though it was clear that I was still in need of more information. Was the environment conducive to good reference service? Why or why not? The XXXX website itself was well-designed and conducive to good reference service. The online librarian did not create a very supportive environment however. Were you satisfied with the answer to your query? Why or why not? Somewhat. She did find photos of the green lacewing egg, and information about the flower sightings in Korea and CA. But these were the same items I found in my own preliminary Google™ search. I expected that a reference librarian would try other resources- not just Google™. I think that a beginning internet user may have found her approach insightful, but most folks can type a word or two into the Google™ search bar and find the same things she produced. Her approach was not very professional; it did not reveal anything that the average user couldn’t find on Google™ in a few minutes. I was also disappointed that I had to press her for more scholarly sources about the traditional udumbara flower. She knew I was “writing a paper for college” but she kept pointing me to websites that wouldn’t cut the mustard for an academic paper. Were you satisfied with how your query was handled? Why or why not? Somewhat. Her use of a neutral question at the beginning of the session got us off to a good start, but she strayed from this approach too quickly. Her assumptions about my information need, disregard of the entire question, and singular use of closed questions in the latter half of the interview took us off-track. She kept asking if my question was fully answered, even before she conducted the second part of the search for the udumbara. It felt like she didn’t really want to help me anymore. She became fixated on the idea that “finding a Buddha was as hard as finding an udumbara flower” (which is only a small part of this mystery, and not directly related to my need to know about the appearance of green lacewing eggs and the udumbara). She actually suggested I write my paper about that instead, even though I had told her my quot;paper was supposed to be about a possible urban legend. She did not use additional open or neutral questions to find out what I was ultimately looking for. I had to ask repeatedly for something more in-depth than a Google™ search. I specifically asked for leads on online databases and print resources, but she was unwilling to search beyond Google™ and suggested I visit the reference librarians at my local library. It seemed to me that she did not want to help me unless it involved a very fast Google™ search. Her responses also took an inordinate amount of time. Several times, I wondered if she had left and forgot to sign out of the chat. Towards the end of the session, I asked if I could get a transcript of the session, so that I could follow possible leads. She ignored my question and terminated the session. Ouch! Are there aspects of this librarian's behavior that you would like to emulate? She expanded her understanding of what I was looking for at the very beginning of the interview y using open and neutral questions. She used my name at the beginning of the session. She also told me not to worry about my shoddy typing after I apologized for its sloppiness. I like that she showed me the websites she found on the bottom half of the screen after she conducted the search. I also appreciated a lead she produced- “Youtan Poluo” is another name for
  • 12. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Observation Forms E. Aspen Walker -x- udumbara. Are there aspects of this librarian's behavior that you would like to avoid? -Rushing to terminate the session with a misuse of the normally golden question “Does this completely answer your question?” –Did not share the terms she was using to search. -Using Google™ as a sole resource. -Focusing on something that was not the user’s actual question/information need. -Shuffling the patron off to somebody else, rather than taking the time to conduct a thorough search. Ignoring the patron’s questions and prematurely ending the search. -Leaving the patron hanging without checking in from time to time to let them know that you are still there. Would you return to this librarian? No. But I would return to XXXXX- I’ve also had some wonderful and educational experiences with the service in the past. Other comments?
  • 13. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Summary E. Aspen Walker - xi - In September 2007, I heard about a mystery. In Fremont, CA, folks reportedly found the extremely rare udumbara flower, of Buddhist lore, blooming on an oleander tree near a bus stop; others documented similar tiny, white “udumbara” flowers blooming on the face of a Buddha statue in a Korean temple. Tradition holds that the flower only blooms every 3,000 years, marking the birth of the “King of Falun.” Conversely, several skeptics have noted that the would-be “udumbara” bear a remarkable resemblance to the little white eggs laid by an insect called the green lacewing; and several Buddhist sources maintain that the udumbara is a large, blue lotus or water lily. I plan to pass through Fremont en route to the Internet Librarian Conference, so the mystery caught my attention. The peculiar story seemed well-suited to the Reference Interview Analysis project. I decided that I would pose as an undergrad student writing an essay about an urban legend. I approached three reference librarians with the purposefully vague question, “I need information about a bug egg and a flower.” My ultimate mission was to find two things: a picture of green lacewing eggs and a traditional Buddhist source that describes or portrays the appearance of the udumbara. My first visit was to the XXXX Public Library. The library was fairly busy. Three librarians were at the reference desk. One typed fervently, another chatted with patrons, the third read a piece of paper. I stood in front of the middle of the desk, across from the reading librarian. After about a minute, she looked up and asked if she could help me. I sat down across from her and posed my vague question. She turned the computer screen so I could see what she was going to do. After asking open (Can you tell me more?) and closed (How do you spell that? Is that an insect?) questions, she searched the opac for “green lacewing eggs” and then “udumbara.” She told me they didn’t have any books on those two subjects. She did not search for more broads term like “insect” or “Buddhism.” She turned next to Ebsco’s magazine database (not the entire Ebscohost site) with the same keywords, but did not find anything. She did not search any of the other available databases (general reference, scientific, etc.). At that point, she walked me over to the general, religion and mythology encyclopedias, and told me to look through their indexes. She did not offer additional help, return to check on me, or ascertain if my question had been answered. A week later, I visited the XXXX academic library at XXXX Community College. The reference desk was located immediately inside the library’s main entrance. The library was moderately busy, especially the computer terminals. The reference librarian was sitting at the desk, and immediately asked if she could help me. After I asked the
  • 14. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Summary E. Aspen Walker - xii - vague bug egg/flower question, she looked at me quizzically and I volunteered more information about the green lacewing eggs, the udumbara and the paper on urban legends I was supposed to write. She asked me if I could describe my question more, and then she started typing. I wanted to see what she was doing, so I came around the desk. She checked the catalog for books, and offered me call numbers for books on Buddhism and urban legends. She also recommended an online search of the entire Ebscohost site, as well as ProQuest, but did not suggest a search strategy. She pointed me towards the stacks and computers, and recommended that I try an internet search if I didn’t find what I needed. Shortly thereafter, she left the desk, and did not return to the reference area to see how my search was progressing. I did not find what I was looking for in the books or the databases. I was already using a computer terminal in the XXXX Library, so I hopped on XXXX.org, a 24/7 reference consortium, to experience a virtual reference interview. I typed my question, and was hopeful when the librarian asked a neutral question (Can you tell me a little more about what you are trying to find?) and immediately found several good photos of green lacewing eggs, the supposed udumbara flowers in California and Korea, and a website that said the udumbara is traditionally as hard to find as a real Buddha. She asked if my question had been answered, which seemed premature, since I had also asked about traditional Buddhist descriptions of the udumbara. I asked about scholarly or traditional Buddhist resources, so she did a Google™ images search for the term, and asked again if my question had been answered. I asked if we could look at some databases, and there was no response… for a very long time. I though she had left the chat. She finally suggested I write the paper about the metaphor on how hard it is to find a Buddha. I reminded her that my paper was supposed to address an urban legend. At that point, she said I should visit my local library and ask the reference librarians for books on Buddhism. I asked about a transcript of the transaction, so I could look at the links she provided. She was silent for a long spell, and then said goodbye. I came away from the transaction feeling brushed off and ignored after the initial thrill of finding some of what we were looking for. I did receive a transcript via e-mail, but several of the links were missing. I felt like I was in a parallel universe- one where the most reliable resources are the easy-pickings on Google ™ images. The mystery of the bug egg and the legendary flower remains unsolved. I’ll be looking for the Udumbara in Fremont.
  • 15. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker -1- Bopp and Smith say that the reference interview “is essentially a conversation between a reference staff member and a user, the goal of which is to ascertain the user’s information need and take appropriate action to satisfy that need through skillful use of available information sources” (2001, p. 47). I set out to experience this skillful conversation by posing a vague question to three reference librarians at public and academic libraries, as well as an online reference service. My question, “I need information about a bug egg and a flower” was ultimately geared towards discovering the dis/similarities between the eggs of the green lacewing insect, and a rare Buddhist flower called the udumbara. This essay uses the Reference and User Services Association’s (RUSA) Guidelines for Behavioral Performances of the Reference and Service Information Services Professionals (2004) as a framework for the analysis, while evaluating the three experiences through the lens of library and information science literature, and exploring the impact this project will have on my personal approach as a future reference librarian. RUSA offers five guideline areas for reference and information service providers. The first covers approachability. RUSA reminds info pros that a successful reference transaction relies on the patron’s perception that “a reference librarian is available to provide assistance,” and that this initial sense of approachability will “set the tone for the entire communication process” (2004). Similarly, Bopp and Smith write, “To establish trust and openness, the librarian should be approachable, friendly, and focused solely on the user” (2001, p. 53). Thanks to this experiment, it is now very tangible and apparent to me that the patron’s initial perception of the librarian’s accessibility and attitude shapes the course and outcome of the reference process. For example, the first librarian I visited was more interested in an item she was reading, than in paying attention to the patrons who were approaching the desk. This lack of attention and approachability immediately diminished the faith I had in her desire to assist me. Similarly, the online librarian was very slow to acknowledge my presence, so I immediately imagined a disinclined, apathetic librarian. Conversely, the second librarian I approached looked up immediately and smiled. This librarian did not offer superior resources, but the warm initial encounter won me over, and I felt better about the information she provided overall. Affability, quick response and first impressions definitely matter. Moreover, approachability is not a new concept. In 1876, Samuel Swett Green
  • 16. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker -2- delivered a paper at the very first ALA conference that urged librarians to actively help patron in the research process, and stressed the importance of “cordiality” (Thomas, 2004, p. 12). As I embark on the reference librarian’s journey, the historic and continued need for approachability and friendly openness will be at the forefront of my mind. This exercise will serve as a palpable reminder to put the patron first, establish a “reference presence” (RUSA, 2004), and be ever ready with a smile or a swift “Hello! Can I help you find what you need?” RUSA maintains that a librarian’s ability to sustain focused interest in the patron and their query is a key aspect of the reference process, one that will “generate a higher level of satisfaction among users” (RUSA, 2004). The indifferent librarian will not only repel the patron, they will most likely neglect to ask the questions that will yield the right results for the patron. Grover reminds us that while the librarian is responsible for the successful outcome of the search, the patron gets to determine if the search was a success (Thomas, 2004, p. 63). In my estimation, maintaining interest in the patron’s information need will go a long way towards securing both types of success. My own experience reflects this. Once they acknowledged my presence, all three librarians expressed interest in my odd question. I was bolstered by the feeling that help was at hand. I will remember and employ the actions they took to indicate interest: language, smiling and nodding, turning the computer screen so I could participate in the search process, use of my name, written call numbers, and accompaniment to the stacks. The process also taught me that interest should be sustained throughout the reference process. While I was heartened by the initial interest in my question, it was disappointing that the librarians did not follow up with me; conducted short-sighted, incomplete searches; or tried to finish off the reference transaction prematurely. These behaviors significantly diminished my belief that the librarian was interested in my query. Grover is wise to remind us of the primacy of the patron’s perceptions. An uninterested librarian is apt to trigger a dissatisfied patron who is hesitant to return to the library, even if they left with the right information. The focus on librarian interest reminds me of Dervin’s Sense-Making Model (Thomas, 2004). In my experience, an interested librarian can serve as a “bridge” across the gaps of uncertainty and confusion a patron is experiencing when they approach the reference desk for help. Disinterest will widen these gaps and drive the patron away from the library. Some
  • 17. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker -3- reference questions may be boring, but our future lies in our ability to place each and every question (and the person asking the question) at the forefront of our attention. Interest necessarily goes hand in hand with the third RUSA guideline area, Listening/Inquiring. This two-part concept is marvelously symmetrical, reciprocal and collaborative; it also challenges us to be vigilant in our approach to reference service. Can we ask the right questions and get to the heart of the query, if we don’t actively listen to the patron and encourage them to become a part of the process? Not likely. Elmborg reminds us that the “hardest part of learning to teach [at the reference desk] is to ask questions rather than supply answers. As librarians, we are taught that our job is to answer questions. We must unlearn that definition of our job… instead, we must see our job as helping students to answer their own questions” (2002, p. 459). I have learned that as info pros, we cannot let ourselves get caught up in the rush to answer the question (and send the patron away); rather, we must focus on the intentional acts of questioning and listening. We must heed Taylor’s call to help the patron compromise their information need (Thomas, 2001, p. 64), and remember that “librarians who make the effort to conduct a thorough reference interview are more likely to succeed in finding what their patrons want” (Tyyckoson, 2003, p. 50). In other words, we must be in active partnership with our patron. The patron doesn’t just need our help, we need theirs. In my experience, this was clearly illustrated in the use of open and closed questions. I observed that the librarians had to use the right kind of question at the right time in order to succeed. But they also needed to listen to my answers to choose the most appropriate questions and resources. A misplaced closed question can stifle the information process; a thoughtless open-ended question may deter the process from becoming more focused. When the librarians gauged this process correctly, they were able to flesh out my need and provide likely resources. When they neglected to listen to me and inquire appropriately, the search would falter and fumble. For example, the virtual librarian started the process with a good mix of open and closed questions. However, in her ultimate rush to finish the transaction, she forgot the magical mix. She ignored several of my comments and answers, and tried to end the session before my question had been thoroughly answered. I was an assertive patron, and tried to bring her back to the conversation at hand, but I don’t know that
  • 18. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker -4- most patrons display this tenacity. The incident will serve as a reminder that dedicated listening and inquiry are necessary elements throughout the reference process. RUSA’s guidelines about searching build on the previous three. By successfully engaging the patron in an active and thorough conversation, the librarian can construct and carry out the search, with the patron. In my estimation, each and every reference transaction is an opportunity for collaboration and learning- for everyone involved. Kuhlthau prompts us to treat the search process not as a “thing or product to be given out,” and reminds us that the search for information can be about “learning and changing constructs” (Grover and Carabell, 1995, p. 2). She also urges librarians to view the information search process as an opportunity to develop lifelong learners at the library. According to Kuhlthau, life-long learners “are people who can recognize their information need, understand the constructive process, and know how to work with the system” (Isbell and Kammerlocher, 1998, 34). Ultimately, this definition means that a good reference librarian is a life-long learner, who encourages the patron to become one too. My experience had mixed results on the “searching” front. I appreciated it when the librarian would engage me in the process, explain what they were up to, suggest search terms, show me a database, or walk me to the stacks. RUSA says that the “search process is the portion of the transaction in which behavior and accuracy intersect” (2004). I learned from the librarian’s searching, communication and instructional behaviors, and I also gained a lot by examining their accuracy and approach. The first librarian searched the OPAC for very specific terms that are more likely found in an index than the library catalog. The virtual librarian was only willing to look on Google™. In addition to reminding me about the import of a well-crafted search strategy, the experiences clarified the idea that successful information searches in this day and age require skillful forays into a variety of subject areas and formats (Hildreth, 2007, p. 8). I learned a lot about Follow-up, RUSA’s final area in the reference guidelines, by experiencing its absence and misuse. The virtual librarian recommended that I visit the librarians at my local library, but she did not facilitate a referral or send me away with a complete map or transcript that could inform the search (the chat transcript was missing information). While referrals are part of the final guideline, her referral felt like a rebuff in this case. She also prematurely used RUSA’s guideline 5.1, the normally golden question “has your question
  • 19. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker -5- been completely answered?” as a way to curtail the session. Her decision to use “5.1” -even before she had addressed both parts of my initial question- will serve as a vivid reminder not to rush the reference process when I work at the reference desk. The onsite librarians neglected to check up on me to find out how the search was going. One returned to her reading, the other left the library entirely. I was sent to the stacks, and the transaction was over. My experience with lackluster follow-up drives home the point that the reference process is a subjective and personal one, even though it shared by two people. The librarians might have felt they did their job. I felt slighted. We experienced the same reference interaction, but we had two different perceptions. The notion that the reference process is simultaneously collaborative and personal is reiterated by Walker and Janes: “Information is difficult to define accurately; it is perceived differently by different individuals… the mere provision of information-bearing documents does not necessarily mean that the information has been effectively transferred” (1999, p. 17). As reference librarians we will never really know if we have helped the patron, unless we follow up. I learned a lot from this exercise. It was strange and unnatural for me to put on the ruse and pretend I was a reticent patron mired in Kuhlthau’s stages of Topic Exploration and Focus Formulation, when I was really an eager library school student at the Resource Collection phase (Thomas, 2004, p. 31). That aside, this pretense will inform my work in the future. I have traipsed around in the patron’s proverbial moccasins, and I have also identified several reference behaviors that I will eschew or emulate. Ultimately, this exercise has generated a distinct awareness about the concurrent collaborative, subjective and interpretive aspects of the reference transaction. Murphy says, “Reference, like medicine, is a human endeavor, requiring interpretation of objective, subjective and ambiguous texts” (2005, p. 251). I think it’s apt that Bopp and Smith describe the reference transaction as a skillful conversation. As stated, I view the reference process as a dynamic opportunity for learning and collaboration. But we must also remember that all the while, each of us -rather librarian or patron- is the only one with access to our individual thoughts. When we conduct the reference interview, it’s as if we are reaching out in the dark towards another, to strike up conversation and come to some mutual understanding. Ultimately, I now understand that each and every part of this conversation matters a great deal.
  • 20. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker -6- References Bopp, R., & Smith, L. (2001). Reference and information services. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. Elmborg, J. (2002).Teaching at the desk: toward a reference pedagogy. Libraries and the Academy. 2, 459. Grover, R., & Carabell, J. (1995). Toward better information service: diagnosing information needs. Special Libraries. Winter 1995, 2. Isbell, D., & Kammerlocher, L. (1998). Implementing kuhlthau: a new model for library and reference instruction. Reference Service Review. Fall/Winter edition, 34. Murphy, S. (2005).The reference narrative. Reference & User Services Quarterly. 44, 251. Reference and User Services Association, (RUSA) (2004). Guidelines for behavioral performance of reference and information service providers. Retrieved October 15, 2007, from American Librarian Association Web site: http://www.ala.org/ala/rusa/rusaprotools/referenceguide/guidelinesbehavioral.cfm Thomas, N. (2004). information literacy and information skills instruction.Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. Tyckoson, D. (2003).Reference at its core: the reference interview. Reference & User Services Quarterly. 43, 50. Walker, G., & Janes, J. (1999). Online retrieval: a dialogue of theory and practice. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
  • 21. The Mystery of the Bug Egg & the Legendary Flower Reference Interview Analysis E. Aspen Walker -7- Photos Figure 1. Figure 2. Figure 3. Figure 4. Figure 1. “Udumbara” flowers in Fremont, CA. http://clearharmony.net/a_images/2007/09/2007-09-04-udambara-sf-01.jpg Figure 2. “Udumbara” flowers in Korea. http://clearwisdom.net/emh/article_images/2007-1-28-gaoxiong-08.jpg Figure 3. Green Lacewing Eggs. http://woodypest.ifas.ufl.edu/224.htm Figure 4. Blue Lotus/ The “True” Udumbara? http://www.geocities.com/bluelotusconspiracy/