Thursday, 26 October 2017

What to do with Reference

Today Ros Devenish, Library Manager of the library at St Barnabas College in North Adelaide, posted this message to the ANZTLA-Forum, e-list of the Australian and New Zealand Theological Library Association:

Hi everyone

As most of you know, I am pulling together a library from a huge donation of books here in Adelaide.
Very recently, my thinking about the placement of the Reference Collection has needed to undergo a review. I would like to know if any of you shelve your ref books by interfiling them in your Main or General Collection.  It seems that this is happening in quite a few university libraries and it would work well for us here at St Barnabas and would solve quite a few of my immediate problems with shelving and lack of space. With the decreasing need for large hardcopy reference collections this could work well for us into the future.
I would love to hear people’s comments, experiences as you have time.

With thanks


My reply to her enquiry was then sent to the same list: 

It has become apparent over the past twenty years, increasingly, that the purpose of Reference has changed. We all know the main reason, you’re looking at it as I speak.

Do your users go to Reference for answers to their questions? Does Reference offer other services that require it to stand alone as a discrete collection? Is Reference in your library an outdated function, and why?

These and other questions have been asked by librarians ever since the onset of online circa 1995. We live in an age when the most famous encyclopedia in English, Britannica, ceased print publication in 2010 and remade itself as an authoritative source, in contrast to its unpredictable cousin Wikipedia.

Here at the Carmelite Library we reduced Reference from over thirty shelves to about ten. Biographical dictionaries, Bible dictionaries, and many subject encyclopedias were transferred to the General Collection. Everything that had dated of an ephemeral nature was culled. Specialist subject dictionaries with information likely not to be readily obtainable online were also sent to the General Collection. What stayed as Reference were the Catholic encyclopedias (Old and New), the great French ‘Dictionnaire de Spiritualité’, other irreplaceable sets in hagiography and monasticism, and the language dictionaries. These last are the works still most consulted by users, the other mostly consulted by the librarians. Indeed, nowadays Reference is more a librarian’s specialist collection of works with information we will not find online and that is of vital daily use in our work. .

The whole process of reducing and culling Reference has freed up space without in any way losing the essential contents of those works judged necessary for the future.

Other libraries will have different stories, but for us it was a way of dealing meaningfully with a part of the collection that was no longer serving its intended purpose.

Exactly how we do Reference today, in all its aspects, should be a session of a future ANZTLA Conference. Reference does not go away, even when our Reference collections do.

-         - Philip Harvey

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