Reference services and Information Literacy

A desk with “help” for primary pupils
Chinatown library has no librarian only a phone

When visiting a library it is always interesting to see where the reference services are located and how they are manned.  In terms of design, rounded desks or structures were a common theme.  Naming varied between “help” for the infants and juniors, to “information” or “reference” at they poly’s / universities.  The public library in Chinatown had a “cybrarian” as it is a volunteer run library without permanent staff.  Should users have a research or other question, they can phone through to a reference librarian at the central library who is able to assist them with their request.

A few of the libraries employed the “roving” reference librarian model, or a combination of roving librarian and desk located.  One library had the reference librarians located in an office with the possibility of appointments for patrons.  NTU had specialist librarians who had a degree in the subject they were covering.  SMU dedicated a librarian to each school who is responsible for the collection, reference services and database.
An impressive structure in the reference section of NLB

In addition to the reference services, Information literacy (IL) was an important theme.  

Different libraries had different approaches.  Some had integrated IL into the curriculum, some had it as a separate compulsory topic and others offered it on a voluntary basis.  At Ngee Ann, a combination approach was employed.  First year students completed an online library orientation at the start of the school year.  Later, the librarian was invited as a guest lecturer into the classroom.  In further years the library worked in conjunction with lecturer request for more specialized or specific IL or citation or information retrieval needs.

SMU had a “compulsory” information literacy course.  When questioned on how this was enforced and whether it was credit bearing, they admitted that it was an administrative detail that students had to have attended to in order to graduate, like paying their fees and settling outstanding fines!  This was an interesting cultural insight as they explained that Singaporean students would generally not question the fact that something was compulsory, and would merely comply with the requirements. In fact they had a compliance rate of around 97%.

We also learnt about how SMU was using Wiki’s in order to teach IL.  Law students for example had to research a particular aspect of Singaporean law and create a wiki on that.  In the process they learnt about research, searching, citation and the credibility (or not) of sources.  Their own posts were then exposed to scrutiny and the authority rating process.

Most of the libraries created some kind of a game or quest, particularly for their orientation programmes.  Some were on paper, and some made the use of mobile devices.  In the case of mobile devices, often the specifications had been set out by the librarians and the programming or design was done by students at their institution.

NTU has an instructional services arm which helps with creating awareness of the library, tutorials, literature reviews, tools, citation analysis and scholarly communication.  Each librarian is expected to be a teacher.  The take-away for me here is that IL does not stop with first or second years, but can also be vital for people further up the feeding chain as they find out how to market themselves and their research in an increasingly digital academic world. I was very impressed with their services in combining their technical and digital and library knowhow to the needs of lecturers and professors. They also have a youtube channel for self-education.

A little bit of fun on roving reference librarians:

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