Zhang, 1Di ZhangInstructor: Matthew Saxton13 March 2011LIS 520Assignment 4: Research Consultation In the middle of February 2011, I noticed an opportunity to help someone with a potentialinformation need. The person was a coworker whom I have worked with for the past 2-and-a-halfyears as a fellow student assistant (STA) at the Seattle Central Library. The STA program lasts forthree years. My coworker was nearing his three year mark and was preparing to leave his job at thelibrary by March 5th. After hearing that he wanted to search for jobs to replace his current job, Imentioned my reference consultation assignment and offered to help him with his search. Heenthusiastically agreed. During this initial conversation, he gave me some general information about his situation(some of which I already knew). He is a junior at the University of Washington, where he plans toapply to the UW computer science and informatics programs. He is specifically interested in part-time jobs that will allow him to work with computers, although he would settle for other types ofjobs if necessary. He had done some searching on HuskyJobs, a database of job and volunteeringopportunities available at the UW, but had not yet applied to any jobs. We scheduled a face-to-faceinterview for March 10th, the most convenient date for the user due to his schedule. The interviewlasted about 15 minutes. It began with open questions, such as: “Tell me more about your jobsearch so far.” I learned that his search had not progressed beyond looking through HuskyJobs andthe few job opportunities he learned about through friends; none of the latter was computer
Zhang, 2related; he had not applied to any new jobs. I also asked why the user preferred computer jobs. Hestated that he wanted to springboard a career in computers and/or information systems by firstgaining experience in tech support. I then asked him to describe his skills, experience, and otherassets that he offers as a potential employee. This list includes skills such as html coding, PC andMac hardware installation, and troubleshooting experience. Next, I began to ask neutral questions such as: “What are you trying to learn more about?”,“Can you tell me what kinds of assistance you would find most helpful?” and “How will this helpyou?” These types of questions narrowed down the query to a more concrete problemand allowedme to plan a search strategy. The user was experiencing somewhat of a barrier in his progress, whatDervin and Dewdney (1986) would call a “gap.” He was discouraged from making progress in his jobsearch due to a combination of time constraints and knowing where to begin his search. Afterfurther neutral questioning, I found out that what the user really needed was a list of job openingsin the Seattle area that fit his needs and qualifications. This would be the focus of my search. I used closed questions sparingly, mostly just to clarify statements. For example, when theuser mentioned newspapers, people, and the Internet, I asked whether these were sources he hadalready consulted or was thinking of consulting. However, it turned out that neither was the case.While he had heard about job openings from a few friends and had also used the Internet to searchfor jobs at the UW, he had not looked in any newspapers; however, he thought that they would bea good place to look. This illustrates how closed questions can often limit the user’s response to aset of assumptions that may not characterize the actual situation. Luckily, in this case, the userchallenged the assumptions and provided more detailed and accurate information.
Zhang, 3 During the interview, I tried to follow Anderson’s (2009) steps to keeping patrons happy1: 1. Welcome the patron (no scripts)- I talked to the user like a real person, keeping plenty of eye contact and smiling often. I also tried to keep the interview friendly and conversational. 2. Get some background information- I asked questions that revealed the user’s self- perceived situation and gaps, and how more information could help him. 3. Let them know how long this will be- I told the user what I was going to do and when I would get my results to him: I would search for jobs, compile a list, and email him the list within 24 hours. He was satisfied with that plan.Search Process:To get a better understanding of careers in computer related fields, I first consultedthe Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition on the U.S. Department of Labor website.The handbook contains information on the training and education needed to obtain certain jobsand earnings as well as expected job prospects, what workers do on the job, and working conditions.I thought that this might be a good resource for the user to refer to in deciding how to bestspringboard his career. I included the link to the website in the document I compiled for the user. In terms of actual job searching, the City of Seattle website seemed like a good place to startmy search because the user had enjoyed working for the city (The STA program is paid for by theCity of Seattle) and would not mind doing so again. However, none of the job openings on thewebsite fit the qualifications and needs of the user. I also tried websites for classifieds, includingcareers.nwjobs.com (an affiliate of the Seattle Times) and jobserve.us.I was unfamiliar with thejargon that was listed in some of the descriptions (and thus unable to have asked about these1 although Anderson’s article was written for virtual-reference librarians, I found it to be helpful in face-to-faceinteraction
Zhang, 5Location, and 5) More Info (which included links to job applications and websites). The tables wereused to organize the information about the job openings into digestible chunks and help the usercompare the different jobs. The first table had two rows describing the two job openings at the UW.The second table had five rows and was devoted to the jobs found through Craigslist. All together, Iincluded seven job listings. As mentioned above, I also included some additional links toinformation about Microsoft internships and career information from the U.S. Department of Labor. I emailed the user within 24 hours of our interview, as agreed. I kept in mind the followingpiece of wisdom from Westbrook (2006): “In a digital forum, pushing a preformatted pathfinder onthe topic area can be as inadequate as pointing to a shelf of books” (p. 252). I made sure not only toprovide the list and the links to the information, but also an explanation of my search process, whatworked and what did not work, and why I chose to use the resources that I did. This would allowthe user to decide whether or not the search process was reasonable, thorough, and helpful. Theinformation presented cannot be evaluated without first evaluating the search process. I concludedthe email by asking the user to please let me know “whether you need more/different information,how this information is helpful (if it is), and how you plan to use it (if you do)”Feedback from User: The user responded by saying: “Overall, the list was really helpful and I’llprobably apply to some of those or do some more searching myself later on.”2This indicated that hefelt the list was a useful starting point for his job search. More specifically, he said: “Thecraigslist/UW websites you gave me in the table were pretty much spot on for what Im kindalooking for.” He also mentioned that at first glance, some of the Microsoft internships that I pointedout “were good but seem to require a bit more experience than what I have right now.” While he2The user gave permission for his quotes to appear in this paper.
Zhang, 6was not considering applying to the internships in the near-future, he would keep the opportunitiesin mind. The user’s feedback suggested that he was satisfied with my search and results. One area that I could have improved upon was checking the reputations of the companiesthat I did not know. The user did some checking on a company that did independent contracting(for one of the jobs in my list). It turned out that the company has a reputation of being dealingwith its contractors in an unethical fashion. Sure enough, when checked the company’s record withthe Better Business Bureau, it had a score of “F.” I wrote back to the user to apologize for notcatching that fact before him. In the same email, I also reminded him that one of the jobs on the listhad a fast approaching deadline, in case he wanted to apply for it. In closing the consultation, I triedto avoid the two problems that often occur at the end of interviews: premature closure and lack ofclosure (Westbrook, 2006). I avoided premature closure by making sure that the user was satisfiedwith everything that had transpired before ending the consultation. I closed by thanking the userfor his participation, wishing him luck on his continuing search, and asking him not to be hesitantabout contacting me if further needs should arise.Conclusion: My research consultation a valuable opportunity to practice query negotiation skills,toplan, applying, and communicate search strategies, to present the search results to the user, and tobring positive closure to the consultation. My consultation process relied heavily on the neutralquestioning methods of Dervin and Dewdney, as well as Anderson’s and Westbrook’s respectiveconcepts for successful reference interviews. All of this was employed with an overarching goal inmind: meeting the information needs of the user. The feedback that I received from the usersuggests that the research consultation was a success.
Zhang, 7 ReferencesAnderson, Craig. “How to Be A Person: Tips and Tricks for Virtual Reference.” C&RL News, Nov. 2009. Retrieved on 10 March 2011, from: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/publications/crlnews/2009/nov/person.cfmDervin, Brenda, and Patricia Dewdney. 1986. Neutral Questioning: A New Approach to the Reference Interview. Reference Quarterly 25: 506-513.Westbrook, Lynn. 2006. Virtual Reference Training: The Second Generation. College and Research Libraries 67: 249-259.