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Reference resources still have their place, says study

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'The future of reference is far from grim despite competition from Google, Wikipedia, and other resources and despite budgetary constraints, because patrons are overwhelmed by the abundance of information,' according to the author of a new white paper from SAGE.

The white paper - 'The State of Reference Collections' - argues that, although the definition of reference is changing, this is, in part, because reference resources now look and feel like other information sources and because other information resources perform the traditional purpose of reference – answering research questions.

The study author went on to say: 'Today, librarians point patrons to reference resources without ever referring to them as "reference". This includes article, statistical, and video databases. Librarians see utility in any resource that helps patrons find an answer to their research question.'

Elisabeth Leonard, executive market research manager at SAGE and former reference librarian, conducted the study using a combination of a survey of 482 librarians, several focus groups, and interviews. Her findings include:

·         75 per cent of librarians consider article databases to be the most useful reference source;

·         After article databases, the reference sources seen as most useful are statistical databases (51 per cent of librarians found them most useful), and abstracting and indexing resources (42 per cent);

·         For most of the respondents, use of free resources is as prevalent as use of fee-based resources;

·         Librarians reported either a preference for online reference (68 per cent of academic librarians and 50 per cent of special librarians) or no preference for reference format (60 per cent of public librarians and 31 per cent of special librarians);

·         Of all the items reference librarians want publishers to provide, discovery services were the most desired.

Leonard continued: 'Although not all librarians believe that using traditional reference resources is necessary, for those who do, using reference resources is a passionate cause.'