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Wednesday, February 7 • 2:00pm - 3:30pm
Session 2.2B - Juried Paper: The Place of Reference Courses in LIS Curriculum in North American ALA Accredited Programs.

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In the landscape of professions, Library and Information Science (LIS) stands out as a service profession and the reference course is a central part of most LIS programs. The courses offerings started at the end of the 20th century with the first recorded course taught under Melvil Dewey’s own supervision. In fact, in 1883 Dewey believed offering courses in what was then referred to as “bibliography” was an essential part of the LIS curriculum. These courses aimed at providing instruction in the “…knowledge of what reference books there are, their comparative merits in respect to given subjects, and how to use them to the best advantage.” (Genz, 1998). The creation of these courses responded to a broader need identified by LIS professionals which was centered on helping the user of the library and also as a way to encourage the use of the collection by making the library more welcoming to patrons (Genz, 1998).
Although, historically, the reference course was always one that was meant to prepare librarians in order to serve their patrons in a more effective manner, the focus of reference courses for many years was on the reference collection. And one important aspect to affect the reference collection in libraries is the change in their nature, formats and types throughout the years. In the days before electronic databases and search engines, the main way to help patrons was to find answers and reference materials were those specialized in finding answers to questions (Katz, 2004). However, as the information landscape has changed and locating information in order to answer everyday answers is easier, faster and more intuitive every day, the nature of reference services in libraries has also changed. Nowadays, there are many calls to acknowledge the complexity of the transactions with which librarians deal as part of their work with the public including their pedagogical nature (Elmborg, 2002).
This evolution in the nature of reference services, including the change in the ways we refer to this aspect of the job, has also mandated a change on how the course is approached. From a focus on resources and locating information to one that is more social in nature (Sproles, Johnson and Farison, 2008). This new approach to preparing future information professionals focuses more on the interactions with the patron, understanding the way in which people search for information, which is not linear in nature but much more complex, and the evaluation of information. The importance of information sources is still there, but the new focus of reference is in the social aspect. In LIS fields alone this is a clear delineation and the purpose of preparing for this type of work is a direct one to the kind of jobs students will apply to. But what happens to the curriculum when other fields join librarianship? Fields that bring their own sets of paradigms and ways of approaching work? Other fields not necessarily connected to the service aspect of librarianship?
In recent explorations of the role of reference courses in LIS, the centrality of the so called “reference” course, was uncovered when many professional librarians mentioned this course as the main way in which they encountered topics of bringing appropriate customer service to their patrons (Colón-Aguirre, 2017). As a service profession this aspect shouldn’t be neglected. But LIS education also needs to accommodate for ways of working of different fields in which students might find themselves employed. That is, in an ever-expanding education universe full of interdisciplinary collaborations and also one in which LIS education has expanded and enriched itself with knowledge from fields beyond itself and the social sciences, what place does reference courses have?
This study looks to answer this question by analyzing the reference course offerings in various ALA accredited LIS programs. The focus of this analysis will be on the required nature of the reference course the course’s title, description and the activities and readings required in the available syllabi. This project will employ a content analysis with constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) in order to analyze the syllabi and uncover patters that will help inform how reference courses are currently conducted in the field. Preliminary results show that what is generally referred to as a ‘
 


Wednesday February 7, 2018 2:00pm - 3:30pm
Meadowbrook II

Attendees (7)