Lately, I've been thinking about how to capture statistics in the library, and though that might seem a simple topic, it's actually left me asking more questions than answering them. For instance, here's a question I never thought I'd ask: "what is a reference question?" I always thought this was such a simple thing, after all I took multiple semesters of reference and advanced reference classes during my first graduate program. However, despite my recent efforts, I've yet to be able to define "reference question" to my own satisfaction. Turns out, it's not so straightforward after all.
Here are my thoughts so far:
- Spelling, grammar, and citation questions are not reference questions. Even if I get all pedagogical on the patron and show him/her OWL instead of just telling him/her how to format the citation, even if I end up spending 10 minutes in the process, these are too basic to count as reference questions.
- Purely directional questions are also not reference questions. This isn't contentious when it comes to "Where's the bathroom?" type questions, but I know some people would disagree with me when I insist that something like "Where do I find 809.93372 Man?" doesn't count as a reference question, either.
- Questions about the library can go either way. "When is the next Microsoft Word workshop?" isn't a reference question, but "Who were the first librarians at this college?" is.
- Directional questions can be reference questions in disguise. An example from my own experience is the time "Where do you keep the New York Times?" turned out to be an in-depth quest for reviews of horror movies from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
So I'm sure we can all agree that "Where is the public meeting room?" isn't a reference question. I'm also sure we can all agree that "I need information about Great Britain during Shakespeare's lifetime." is. Between those is a bit fuzzier.
So what do you all think?