Dr. G. Lundeen




A Plan for an Online Reference Service


in an Academic Library







Implementation of an online information retrieval service in a university research library reference department similar to Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii in size, resources, and user population is proposed.


This is a simulated report by an Online Information Services Committee appointed to investigate the feasibility of offering a new information service in the university research library to all current and potential user groups:Κ faculty, visiting scholars and researchers, students, business, government, and the general public. The proposed and recommended service shall be called Online Reference Service (ORS), to be phased in over a three year period, located in the reference department, staffed by newly trained existing staff members, and budgeted through existing and contributed funds.


The purpose for introducing the new information system is to respond to direct needs of the user population, to support research and teaching activities with a timely and a maximally wide information base which allows users to keep abreast of multidisciplinary connections to their own work arid the work of others, thus integrating the body of ever-increasing knowledge through filling informational needs. Other libraries have reported improvements in the following areas: improved productivity and progress of research, improved current awareness of new ideas at the forefront of progress, and maximizing use of the libraryβs current vast resources in journals and monographs. Availability of bibliographic, statistical, citational, graphic, etc. information online in libraries affects the future of scholarly work since current writings are available sooner.Κ Time is of the essence in research when workers must use more searching than necessary, or when an unnecessary series of experiments can be avoided or when a breakthrough occurs interdisciplinary insights provided through literature searches, which can mean savings in research budgets as well.Κ An online system can prove to be cost effective for users libraries.


ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚ Among the expected benefits of implementing the Online Reference Service are the following:


a.Κ ΚΚΚ More searches can be performed for patrons because the system is veryΚ

ΚΚΚ ΚΚΚΚ fast.


b.Κ ΚΚΚ Librarians can now offer wide range or large searches where manual

systems took too much time to be costχeffective for searches as part of regular library service. Now a comprehensive search may be done online in a matter minutes.


c.Κ ΚΚΚ Deeper and more complex searches are possible acrossΚ

ΚΚΚ ΚΚΚΚ multidisciplinary databases in a matter of minutes, as well specificΚΚΚΚΚΚΚ

ΚΚΚ ΚΚΚΚ searches on a single topic database.


d.Κ ΚΚΚ Many formats for the printout of the information are 1e due to builtχ

ΚΚΚ ΚΚΚΚ In access points like title, author, citation, abstract, subject, date,ΚΚΚΚΚΚ

ΚΚΚ ΚΚΚΚ corporate source, statistics and graphics, etc.


e. ΚΚΚΚΚΚVendors include the ability to create database files of our own

materials, or of particular topic domains which covered in the current database systems, thus aiding organization and use of local materials and resources.


f. ΚΚΚΚΚ Many bibliographies can be created rapidly and may be updated automatically on schedule to keep the user current on the latest developments in an area.


g. ΚΚΚΚ Many databases from most academic areas are represented with more added each year in an expanding information storage retrieval business, both private and government based.


h. ΚΚΚΚ Searchers profiles of topic areas may be stored online and keep users up to date in their areas of interest and to alert them to new terminology and methodology.


i.               Searchers and users improve cognitive skills of information retrieval and use

through interacting with the system, more libraryβs resources will be utilized because they referred to users more often through online search references.


(Ferguson, 1977; Haggerty, 1977; Hoover, 1979; Knapp, 1978; Schmidt, 1977; Triolo, 1978)


ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚ ORS is expected to impact well with existing references and is expected to show-up current search capacity of current resources in the library and outside through inter-library loan follow-up document delivery services




ORS will be phased in over a three year period. Each year three searchers will be trained to add to the repertoire of the reference librarians the skill of online searching. The first year searchers will train the second and third year searchers to maximize experiential benefits of longχ term use of the system. These nine reference librarians will be scheduled daily for half-time work with ORS and half-time reference department work .It is thought that this arrangement will maximize use in both areas since many searches now done manually with patrons will be done by computer with the ORS librarian on duty.


It is advisable to introduce the service gradually with our user groups to allow the trainees to become proficient at a steady pace, thus promotion of the new service will increase each year to interest more of the user population in ORS.


Searches will be scheduled by the reference secretary and coordinated with the ORS librarian on duty. Searches will be scheduled in 30 minute intervals as needed, indicated by information on the ORS Search Request Form filled out by users requesting searches.


Two of the searchers will share administrative duties related to maintaining the system. Clerical help is available through the pool for record-keeping functions.




A start-up budget of $22,000 for the first three years of the new service will be contributed from the following sources:



b.ΚΚΚΚ UH research Corporation, Social Science Research





Two terminals and two modems will be purchased each year for three years for a total of six search stations. This budget will pay for all equipment costs, supply costs, manuals, thesauri, public relations costs, and utilities, training costs, for the first years. There is no fee for joining an online vendor, rather charges are incurred by use and billed monthly. These charges will be born by users, thus the library will incur no overhead associated with use by patrons. In the case where a user is dissatisfied with the search results they may opt not to pay for the entire search or to pay a part of the fee. This is expected to affect users future use of ORS after initial failures and is expected to remain a low cost> decreasing as service to users improves.


Online vendors chosen will be phased in over three years beginning with Lockheedβs DIALOG (SDCβs ORBIT, BRS, and NASA follow) allowing search staff to dovetail their proficiency in one system with another and to increase the information base.


During the first year the projected number of searches is ten per day on the averages or 3,000 for the year. This is expected to increase by 100% each year as the benefits of using the system are realized and as promotion of the service reaches more users.


Lockheed has agreed to donate 24 hours of connect time and training seminars for three searchers, allowing trainees to become faster and more proficient during realχtime actual on -the-job search situations. (Plosker, 1980)


Demonstrations to groups will be costχeffective as we will record live demonstrations and replay them through the terminal without incurring online costs. (Hoover, 1979)


Users will also pay for all off line prints and off-campus mailing charges.




The nine searchers will train other interested library personnel or very frequent users on the system at periodic seminars they will offer during each year. In this way the repertoire of the staff will increase and users will he able to more fully integrate with the library system. Proficient users may be authorized to perform their own searches at convenient times, or may have their own terminals.


An online users group will be formed which will combine with other users in the city, meeting monthly to share experiences, strategies, exchange information, summarize recent literature on online searching to enhance development of the use of the system. This group will offer weekend intensive courses during the year. (Haggerty, 1977; Triolo, 1978; Williams, 1977)




The ORS will be located in the reference section of the library in a visible glass enclosed room adjacent to the main reference desk. The facility requires two desks or search stations, six chairs, three telephones, two terminals with modems, four file cabinets, four large book shelves for search manuals and thesauri, two tables, a storage cabinet for supplies (paper, pens, etc.). The room is large enough to accommodate 10 search stations and will be expanded in yearly increments to six stations, more will be added as use of the service increases, grows and becomes fully integrated into the libraryβs reference functions. Adequate furniture exists within the reference department to setχup the location. (Hoover, 1979; Watson, 1978)




In addition to the Search Request Forms filled out by users indicating, topic, known references, desired number of citations, price range willing to pay, name, address, dept, status, type of search, searchers will maintain search log entries for each user. Running search log entries by vendor, database(s) used, subject, connect time, online print 4, offline print pages#, searcher, requestor ID, date are kept by searchers. Search strategies are kept with user Request Forms and cross-filed by subject in a search file. Users may release search results to the ORS and those searches go on file to be reused for other patrons or to he used as models for new searches. As well, search strategies may be saved online for frequent re-use.


Search log information and Search request information will be entered into an automated bookkeeping system for verification of hills from vendors, billing purposes to departments or grants, etc., elimination of paper files, compiling monthly statistics related to ORS use in terms of databases used, vendors used, topics searched, terms used, types of searches, cost-analysis. The automated system allows easy location of recorded search information, sorting totals for easy verification, use statistics for annual reports. (Echt, 1981; Hawkins, 1980)


To facilitate evaluation of the service the patron will be asked to fill out a Post Search questionnaire after the post-search interview with the searcher. The form will allow improvements to the ORS and will be changed as refinements are apparent. Users will be encouraged to give later evaluations of some searches when they become aware of new uses for old searches.




Promotion of the ORS will be directed to faculty during the first year through campus mail announcements describing the benefits of computerized literature searches and posing sample questions. This group includes research institutes on campus and graduate students who may want to use the ORS for their own research. During the second year ORS will arrange for a reception in the library to introduce the service to faculty, graduate students, and researchers with live demonstrations using prepared pre-recorded searches and taking questions from the guests. As well, small group demonstrations will be held during the year with handouts with guidelines for the particular groups for use of ORS, comparisons of manual and computer searches on their topics with sample questions and answers. As well, labels will be used in the reference stacks to alert users to the computer search capability of various indexes. During the third year posters will be made for the library and for departments to alert and to illustrate the use of ORS for typical search questions. Search packages will be developed by the staff for particular user groups showing them bow a computer aided search can enhance their information repertoire (e.g., Dissertation Search Package describing aids available to literature reviews, Grant Proposal Package describing the update facility for researchers preparing written proposals, Course Support Bibliographies for professors to guide their students to proper resources, etc.) Finally, the community will be alerted




Echt, Sandy, et al. γSave time, simplify procedures, get better statistics.δ Online 5(2):21χ37 (April 1981).


Ferguson, D. γMarketing online services in the university.δ Online 1(3) :15χ23 (July 1977)


Haggerty, T. γEducation of online users.δ ASIS Bulletin 3:20χ21 (August 1977)


Hawkins, D.T. & Brown, C.P. γWhat is an online search?δ Online 4(1) :12χ19 (January 1980)


Hoover, R.E. γComputer aided reference services in the academic

ΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚ libraryδΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚΚ 3 :28χ40 (October 1979)


McClure, C.R. γA planning primer for online reference serviceδ Online 4:57χ65 (April 1980).


Plosker, G.R. & Summit, R.K. γManagement of vendor services:

how to choose an online vendor.δ Special Libraries 71(9)

354χ7ΚΚΚΚ (August 1980)


Schmidt, J.A. γHow to promote online services to the people who count the most.. .management. . .end users.δ Online 1:32χ8 (January 1977)


Summit, R.K. & Firschen, 0. γPublic library use of online bibliographic retrieval services.δ Online 1(4) :58χ64 (October 1977).


Triolo, V.A. & Regazzi, J.J. γContinuing education in on-line searching: an instructional module for special librarians. Special Libraries 69:189-200 (May/June 1978)


Watson, P.G. γSelection of computerχbased systems for public service.δ in Buying New Technology, 1978.


Williams, M.E. γEducation and training for online use of databases.δ Journal of Library Automation 10:320χ34 (December 1977)


*Knapp, S. & Gavryck, J. γComputer based reference serviceΠ a course taught by practitioners.δ Online 2:65-76 (April 1978)