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Reinventing Reference: How Libraries Deliver Value in the Age of Google.

Reinventing Reference: How Libraries Deliver Value in the Age of Google

Katie Elson Anderson & Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic, editors. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2015. 192 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8389-1278-2. $65.

As its title suggests, Reinventing Reference deals with the future of public services librarianship. But before looking ahead, its editors and contributors first situate reference in its specific historical context. They divine the future by looking to the past, analyzing the many challenges to which reference service has responded since its origins. From reference's nebulous beginnings in the late 19th century, to the recent changes at all types of libraries brought about by the revolution in digital content, reference has always been an adaptable service. In exploring this history, the book's contributors explore the central question: In the face of coming challenges, will reference remain flexible enough to stay true to its mission?

The multi-author volume is divided into three sections. Part 1, "Understanding Reference," examines the nature of reference service with an emphasis on its past, both distant and recent, including well-researched chapters on the profession's origins, its current ethical quandaries, and the impact of technological innovation on collections and services. Part 2, "Reference 2.0," looks at the current state of reference through the lenses of specific types of libraries, including academic, school, public and special. A case study about academic art librarianship provides the vehicle for examining special libraries. Part 3, "'Dude, Where's My Jetpack?': Near Future of Reference," attempts to identify the major forces that will drive change in the profession in the coming years, from the legal realities of Digital Rights Management to the evaluative leverage made possible by Big Data. This section concludes with a "Coda," envisioning the library of 2052.

The book offers an array of ideas about coming challenges and how reference librarians might respond. In Chapter 2, Zara Wilkinson and Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic note the current trends in the United States toward an older population, growing bilingualism, and a waning emphasis on traditional reading literacy in favor of access to multimedia. In response to these trends, they suggest, the profession's ethical codes such as RUSA's "Guidelines for Information Services" and the "Code of Ethics in the American Library Association" will be more important than ever if librarians are to stay true to reference's core principles. In Chapter 4, Gary Golden looks toward the horizon of academic librarianship and forecasts the critical roles to be played by information literacy instruction, distance learning services, and further innovations in virtual reference interactions. In Chapter 6, Justin Hoenke remarks on how teenagers view the library differently from older populations, seeking experiences rather than specific information resources. He advises that librarians must design new approaches to service with this young population--tomorrow's adult library users--in mind.

In terms of proposing innovative ideas, the final chapters of the book are the most useful. In Chapter 8, John Gibson warns that Digital Rights Management (DRM), technological measures that protect digital content from being reproduced or shared illegally, might restrict future generations' capabilities to use the protected content once current formats and technologies are obsolete, presenting a real impediment to preservation. DRM might also create a new digital divide. Gibson urges librarians to educate themselves about the regulations surrounding copyright and DRM, so that they might take an informed stance. He predicts that advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), videoconferencing, and near-field wireless (NFW) communications might enable librarians to provide new types of service in the near future. Using AI to answer reference questions or operating a satellite location using videoconferencing will only be possible if libraries are proactive in planning and investing in such innovations.

In his analysis of reference's future in Chapter 9, Stephen Abram provides a framework of seven distinct categories for imagining the field's opportunities. These opportunities range from "evidence-based strategies," i.e., using the unprecedented wealth of usage data to track patron behavior and tailor decisions accordingly, to "quality strategies" which position librarians as providers of value in an age of cheap, overabundant information. Abram proposes transliteracy as a new focus for library instruction, as academics adopt a wider notion of literacy to incorporate expertise in critical thinking, multimedia, finances and other areas. He emphasizes the importance of scalability, encouraging libraries to use their strengths in organization, access management and description to design services that make the best use of their efforts and resources.

Although the book thoughtfully considers the historical evolution and trajectory of reference, much of its content is not useful for purposes of designing innovative library approaches. Many chapters spend more time describing what already has happened in the realm of reference than in providing ideas for responding to changing circumstances. Many of its creative solutions--maintaining an active presence on social media, focusing on free virtual collections, communicating the value of libraries to stakeholders--feel more safe than novel. In three separate instances, its contributors mention MySpace, a social media platform that long ago faded into oblivion for most library users. While the book attempts to predict the future by way of examining the past, it could be argued that much of its focus is stuck squarely on the present day.

Librarians at all types of libraries will find this book engaging for its discussion of previous and current challenges to reference. Its individual examinations of academic, public, school and special libraries make it a versatile and inclusive work. It also presents excellent new scholarship on the history of reference librarianship, an area in need of such contributions.

Review by Mark D. Robison

First-Year Experience Librarian

Valparaiso University

Valparaiso, IN
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Author:Robison, Mark D.
Publication:Journal of Library Innovation
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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