How Canadians librarians practice and evaluate individualized research consultations in academic libraries. A nationwide survey.

Title: How Canadians librarians practice and evaluate individualized research consultations in academic libraries. A nationwide survey.
Authors: Fournier, Karine
Lindsey, Sikora
Date: 2015-07
Abstract: Introduction and Purpose: Library users often present themselves with requests for help and guidance, with varying degrees of difficulty. As such, librarians in most academic institutions have been transitioning away from a service point (i.e. reference desk), to more specialized and advanced assistance through referrals made by paraprofessionals or by the creation of individualized consultation services for students and researchers. In reviewing the literature, it was found that individualized consultations have not been studied as thoroughly as group instruction. While one-on-one consultations have been described and monitored, there is a lack of evidence assessing this type of student support. For this reason, a closer examination of the practices, and assessment of individualized research consultations is needed. Pertaining to their own experience, and by reviewing the literature, the authors have defined Individualized Research Consultations (IRC) as scheduled appointments that aim at helping researchers and students with their research projects, including, but not limited to, the literature review process. This study explores individualized research consultation practices of Canadian academic librarians with their student population and researchers. The study’s research questions include: What are the general practices of individual consultations among academic librarians in Canada? What assessment tools are they using to obtain feedback, measure their impact and improve their consultation services? Methodology: A bilingual (French and English) questionnaire was issued, with a generic definition of individualized research consultations provided. The questionnaire included general demographics and background information on individualized research consultations practices among Canadian academic librarians, followed by reflective questions on the assessment process of such practices. The survey included both structured and open-ended questions. The survey was anonymous and was managed with a password protected private account. Ethics approbation was obtained by the University of Ottawa Research Ethics Board. The questionnaire was sent to Canadian academic librarians via email, using professional librarians associations’ listservs. Twitter was used as well for dissemination. All questions were optional and the participation was voluntary. Data collection took place from August to October 2014. Findings: With an unknown and very narrow target population (e.g. Canadian academic librarians providing individual consultations), the response rate of 296 can be deemed as positive. All type of institutions, small to large, were represented, as well as all academic disciplines, with the majority of respondents from the arts and humanities, the health sciences, and the social sciences. Results show that individualized research consultations take between 30 to 59 minutes for the majority of respondents, and they have either no follow-up appointments, or less than 50% of the time. Most respondents spend time preparing before an individualized research consultation. The majority of participants rated individualized research consultation as very useful for the user. Individualized research consultation assessment practices were found to be scarce among Canadian academic librarians; the majority of respondents indicated no formal methods of assessment, relying upon informal comments from users. Usage statistics compilation and analysis appears to be the most popular method of assessment. Participants were asked how the impact of individualized research consultation can be assessed, and most stated that obtaining user satisfaction was the method of choice in their institution. An in-depth analysis of the survey’s results will be discussed. Research limitations or implications: It needs to be acknowledged that the study is exploratory in nature as this is the first study solely dedicated at examining academic librarians’ individualized research consultations practices. It would be interesting to observe individualized research consultations practices in other countries, and comparisons between countries could be performed. Conclusion: It is hoped that with the results obtained, an assessment tool will be created to help enhance librarians’ understanding of the impact of individualized research consultations on students and researchers. This may influence how academic librarians conduct individualized research consultations in the future, affecting their day-to-day practice. Originality and value of the proposal: -Studying a sphere of research in information sciences that is not yet thoroughly documented should produce innovative and unique research results. -Librarians across Canada run individualized research consultations in very different formats. The survey that was constructed and disseminated contains feedback and information that could be used to observe other librarians’ methods of conducting individualized research consultations and pulling together “Best Practices”. Recommendations will contribute to future improvements to individualized consultation services across Canadian academic libraries.
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