Top 10 Pitfalls when Answering Reference Questions for the IPL


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A review of common errors when answering questions following the IPL guidelines for question answering.

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  • Welcome and Introduction – Brief Bio IPL has been around 12 years now. Started as a student project and to the surprise of the founder Dr. Joe Janes and his students, it caught on right away. It now has thousands of collections and receives about a million hits a week.
  • The IPL is packed with carefully-reviewed links in its collection.
  • As with most of the IPL’s content, special collections are often developed as student projects. The About Us area in any website is valuable for helping users evaluate the site’s credibility. You will be helping with the Ask a Question service after you pass your practice question. We usually get about 50 – 75 questions a day, from all over the world – although we must insist, at this time, that the questions are submitted in English. So don’t worry…you won’t have to learn another language fluently to participate in this service.
  • When answering questions, there are a few common mistakes that I’ll address tonight.
  • Skipping the Practice Questions Bad idea and not allowed. They are in red. The IPL has a format to use, a standard to uphold, and a consistent way we work with our patrons, just like with any library. Practice Question….student turns in Practice question before filling out the Student Practice Question form…maybe through no fault of their own
  • Three sources are preferred: just in case a site is down, the URL suddenly changes, or your link doesn’t work.
  • The IPL prefers three sources when you answer a question; two if you can justify it. In this case, though, one of the two should not be Wikipedia. There is a lot of controversy about Wikipedia; I’m sure Anne has a lot to say on the matter. Regarding the IPL, though, we would like to have you use it as way to help you search for more information, as a starting ground, and then back up the information with a valid, reliable source. Another is Angelfire: Generally an interesting place but can’t be relied on for accurate information.
  • Speaking of valid sources…is a source? When checking for the authority of the information, check for authors, editors, date of site and its updated information, copyright, and where it’s coming from.; is great but it is an information portal.
  • Sometimes it’s tempting to just give the answer to the question. But we are leaders in the world of information literacy; it’s important to provide a link to the answer, and a link to the source.
  • There are two ways we can fall into this hole. One is by offering way too much information and overwhelming the patron. The other is by providing information isn’t appropriate to the patron’s need. There is a balance, and this is often learned. We’re not privy to body language, so knowing who are patrons are requires carefully looking at their question. How did they phrase their question or questions? Are they a student, a third grader, someone who just wants to know for personal knowledge? Where are they from? What subject did they choose for their heading? From: Stephen E. Lucas’s Interview: Bryan, Darrow, and Great Speeches found on, and specifically at:
  • The Reference Interview – face to face (mask!!) vs. online. You’re in a classroom…spontaneous, feel the energy. Online is different – there’s energy but it is tapped into in another way. The IPL’s patrons offer us clues – subject codes, literacy clues with how their question is formed, where they are from, if they are a student, if the information sought is for personal or research use, where they previously searched. These clues are provided through the form when they submit a question. And sometimes we try to ask for more information, but when email is already much slower than chat, we don’t want to delay any longer than we have to. We have to make assumptions, but base these upon as many facts as possible. Never assume that a person who doesn’t capitalize their “I” or use proper punctuation is illiterate, though…they might just be lazy or a lousy at typing, or maybe they are in a cast.
  • The IPL has a lot of information. As mentioned, it has 12 years worth of work which is constantly evolving and being added to. The searchability is one thing we are addressing. So are gaps in content. What the IPL is known for are the special collections:
  • (Name the collections.) The award winning POTUS area, for example, is a frequently asked question (depending upon the time of year.) Over 40% of our users are school kids who have been given a lit crit assignment, a science fair project, or something similar. The FARQs are “frequently asked reference questions.” The more you are familiar with the IPL’s site, the easier it will be for you. And, you’ll be providing quality reference material to patrons that have been thoroughly reviewed.
  • The QRC site, where you post your answer, uses a script that needs some careful attention. …need to use “http:” in front of URL to create link. And while we’re at it, URL’s that are long (linked to the very page where the answer is) need to be made shorter. There is a free service we use called, “Tiny URL.” And it is linked to our IPL question-answer area for your convenience.
  • When you sign on, you “claim” a question, form your answer with three sources – hopefully – and send it to the patron. Then before you log out of QRC, make sure you use click on the Answered button.
  • Whether academic, public, special or working as an information specialist, we are in the business of collaboration and team work
  • Top 10 Pitfalls when Answering Reference Questions for the IPL

    1. 1. A learning tool A reference source Online since 1995
    2. 2. Home page of the IPL shown here in Internet Explorer – top half of page Subject collections Reading Room Ready Reference
    3. 3. Home page of the IPL bottom half of page The “About” area. You will be helping with the Ask a Question service – this is sometimes featured “above the fold” as an Announcement to generate more questions. Special Collections area
    4. 4. Top Ten Pitfalls when Answering Reference Questions using the IPL’s email-based Ask a Question service
    5. 5. Pitfall #1 <ul><li>Being a little too anxious and eager to get started in the “real” (cyber) world (not doing a Practice Question) </li></ul><ul><li>“ I don’t need to practice – let’s get on with the real questions.” </li></ul>
    6. 6. Pitfall #2 “ If I find the answer using one really good site, I don’t need to look any further. Popular and easy sites are the best.” Succumbing to the illusion of online publishing and availability
    7. 7. Pitfall #3 <ul><li>Relying on Wikipedia as a reliable, authoritative source . </li></ul>Wikipedia is a librarian’s best friend! I can find just about any answer to every reference question.
    8. 8. Pitfall #4 Mistaking a source of information with an information portal/search engine. Isn’t a source?
    9. 9. <ul><li>Just giving the answer! </li></ul><ul><li>(and nothing else!) </li></ul>Pitfall #5 I know that one!
    10. 10. <ul><li>“ Educating” the patron too much. </li></ul>Pitfall #6 From: Stephen E. Lucas’s Interview: Bryan, Darrow, and Great Speeches found on, and specifically at: http:// “ What's a good way to structure a speech ? “One basic structure for a speech falls into three parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Each part is designed to do something different. You need to have an introduction that gets the audience's attention and lets people know about the importance of the subject, why it's important for them to listen. It makes a first impression. In journalism they call it a &quot;hook&quot;: something that's going to pull your audience in to your speech. The introduction should also reveal the speech's topic and give the audience some idea of the main points to be discussed. “The body of the speech is where the speaker develops his or her main points -- the big ideas of the speech. You should probably limit yourself to 4 or 5 main points in a speech, whether it's a 10-minute or a 60-minute speech. That will give you time to develop the points you're making. If you have too many main points, the audience will have trouble sorting them out and you may find that you aren't able to develop them in enough depth to be clear and convincing. “The conclusion is important because it's where you leave your most lasting impression. It's the last chance to drive the ideas home to the audience, and ideally the speaker will find a way to leave a lasting impression, both in terms of what he or she says, and in terms of the delivery. Some famous speeches end with stirring conclusions. A celebrated one is Patrick Henry's exhortation to &quot;give me liberty -- or give me death.&quot;
    11. 11. <ul><li>Making “wrongfully gained” assumptions </li></ul>Pitfall #7
    12. 12. <ul><li>Only using Google – habits are hard to break! </li></ul>Pitfall #8
    13. 13. Special Collections Newspapers/ Magazines Resources in Foreign Languages Science Projects FARQs TeenSpace P.O.T.U.S. KidSpace ipl
    14. 14. <ul><li>Not providing a working link to the answer. </li></ul>Pitfall #9 I found great resources and gave the links to the sources... Whoops! I typed them wrong and they don’t work!
    15. 15. Pitfall #10 <ul><li>Not completing their work with “Answered” </li></ul>
    16. 16. Don’t work alone Librarians share <ul><li>Their </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Knowledge </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Resources </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Advice </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Talents </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
    17. 17. Thank you!