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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2002

Conference Reports

Science & Technology Section General Discussion Group
ALA Midwinter Conference, January 19, 2002

Norma Kobzina
Bioscience and Natural Resources Library
University of California, Berkeley

The Science and Technology Section General Discussion Group on Saturday, January 19, 2002, featured four authors of articles that appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of ISTL: JoAnn Sears, Auburn University; Susan Ardis, University of Texas at Austin: Kathy Fescemyer, Pennsylvania State University: and Bryna Coonin, East Carolina University.

JoAnn Sears talked about "Chat Reference Service: An Analysis of One Semester's Data" focusing on a project at Auburn University, where chat reference was implemented in the Fall of 2000. The library serves 23,000 students in one main building with a single reference desk. Four reference points had been combined before the project was initiated. Client software was installed at the reference desk, rather than in a librarian's office or home. Prior to the Spring 2001 study, she had not seen much in the literature about how chat reference technology was used. Auburn's statistics showed that 55 percent of the chat reference questions were specific, research and ready reference questions; 13 percent were directional questions; and 32 percent dealt with policy and procedures, including database procedures. Sixty percent of the questions were localized to Auburn, which affected cooperative arrangements. Thirty nine percent of the "chat" answers had specific references included.

Areas of further study included the breakdown of specific types of questions, a quantitative analysis, user satisfaction, and return rate of users. Auburn has no restrictions on who uses the service. There is the question of how consortia are dealing with this.

Questions from the audience: How much traffic do they have at the reference desk and how does this interact with normal reference? They have two to four staff at the desk; one person could be answering the "chat" questions. It is difficult to tell a patron at the desk that you're typing something live, not just doing e-mail. The chat software is installed at two terminals that are slightly away from the reference desk.

It is hard to measure user satisfaction. Users' IP addresses were not recorded. Students using dial-up modems doing a search do not have to hang up to call the library if they use chat reference. A major benefit was having the reference collection right there. Since they had just merged reference desks they could use colleagues who represented different subject areas. They started the experiment from 1-9 pm and increased it to about 77 hours/week, with four librarians. "Human Click" was free at the time they began, but now they charge, which is a major change. Students did not need to install anything on their own computers.

Susan Ardis reported on "Specialized Remote User Education: Web-Based Tutorials for Engineering Graduate Students." Students are at two campuses, which are spread out. Two tutorials were developed for the groups. One tutorial teaches online patent searching; the other covers the complexity of engineering information, standards and patents. They offered other shortened explanatory tutorials including technical writing. FAQs were created, e.g., how to choose a search engine. This type of information can be dry and boring, and they wanted to make it "edgy" with non-library oriented graphics. Susan reported a lot of use from outsiders, since the McKinney Library is the only library in Texas with the word "engineering" in its name.

The tutorials were designed to be shared with reference staff. Development plans include a module on plagiarism and a voice-over in Mandarin, since the technical writing students are overwhelmingly Chinese. Her job is to market this to graduate students, advisers, etc.

Questions from the audience: What sort of feedback are you getting? There is great feedback from faculty, who tell their students to use it. They also ask for hands-on, which is not required, but merely recommended. They raised the visibility of the librarian as someone who has something to offer for their Dean and faculty. The URL for further information is

Bryna Coonin described "Enabling Scientists: Serving Sci-Tech Library Users with Disabilities." Her interactions with people who were limited in their ability to work in an electronic environment sparked the idea of determining how disabled researchers and faculty working in the sciences access the web. Adaptive technology is often available in a large central library but not in branches or departmental libraries. The Web Accessibility Initiative provides guidelines for the creation of accessible web pages, for example pages that provide scientific and mathematical technical notation, which is hard to put into HTML.

She found that commercial publishers are not always providing compliant web pages. Some vendors know they are buying material that does not conform to guidelines. Ingenta has major problems, and JSTOR has problems because much of their material is scanned, not born digital. Digital audio technology is starting to help, e.g., to improve math and science textbooks. Of eleven e-journal publishers, Kluwer was the only one that is compliant but it is still hard to navigate.

Kathy Fescemyer expressed "Six Wishes of a Public Service Librarian." Users of library provided material should realize that the information is not free, but do not understand how we got the material in the first place. Databases have different characteristics, but she has patrons who know only a single database such as PubMed. If faculty do not know, students will not find out. There is a lack of understanding of limitations, e.g., dates of coverage. The web is free but limited. Her question: If everything is free, why are the publishers and vendors charging?

Students also are not aware of the difference between scholarly and popular journals. Search engines retrieve material but do not indicate how to expand or limit. There is no appreciation for the variety and depth of information available. Are we waiting for them to come to us or are we marketing ourselves? Her last comment was that librarians need to have a discussion of how students and faculty search print vs. online.

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