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portal: Libraries and the Academy 2.2 (2002) 345-347

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Book Review

Unobtrusive Evaluation of Reference Service and Individual Responsibility:
The Canadian Experience

Unobtrusive Evaluation of Reference Service and Individual Responsibility: The Canadian Experience, Juris Dilevko. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing, 2000. 220 p. $24.95 (ISBN 1-56750-507-4)

Reviewing a new work, especially a research study of interest beyond its discipline, involves the challenge of examining the text on several levels—the monograph itself (layout, clarity, thesis, findings) as well as worthiness of the research question and alternative publications. First, a quick look at the monograph itself and its publication history. Juris Dilevko is Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto. He is both an English literature scholar and a librarian and has published widely in library literature. In fact, the 1999 study which constitutes most of this book is available online at the Canadian Depository Services Program Web site at <>

Dr. Dilevko's literature review on reference service and evaluation is worthwhile reading for librarians, social scientists, statisticians and others studying social institutions. It, and the smaller literature reviews throughout the book and the lengthy References section at the end of the book, are excellent resources for the reader who wants to explore the status of library use and some of the reasons patrons may not ask librarians for assistance with their information needs and the perceived quality of reference work within libraries and the larger culture.

Following the literature review are several studies that could have been improved by an introduction more clearly stating the organization and content of the book. The first study, also found online, uses unobtrusive evaluation of library services relating to government documents in [End Page 345] Canadian libraries. After a short literature review of unobtrusive evaluation studies within the chapter, the bulk of the monograph (three chapters) is a detailed description of the rationale, methods, procedures, data analysis, and findings. Each of the fifteen questions used is described and justified. The volume is replete with tables and charts. The author reports the levels of services and quality of answers in one set of analyses. He then discusses the proxies' (those asking the unobtrusive questions) experiences while making queries and carefully describes the answers they received. Dilevko does a better job than most researchers in acknowledging the shortcomings of the research design, and he attempts to account statistically for some of the design problems.

The next chapter is devoted to the analysis of the referrals made or suggested by librarians in response to the original questions and could be considered as a separate study. The chapter entitled "Newspapers and the Reference Desk" is another separate study of public librarians' awareness of recent news in answering reference questions. Proxies asked questions, the answers to which could be found in major Canadian newspapers or probably would have been known by librarians who followed the news.

In his conclusions and recommendations, Dilevko draws on recent management and library literature, as well as Indian theorist S.R. Ranganathan. It is largely a plea and a challenge for more personal responsibility in all reference work. He does discuss some structural changes in library management, library education, and work requirements that could contribute to improved performance. He also promotes the periodic testing of librarians to see if they know the answers to specific content and have experience with specific resources.

Few would have an issue with the idea that reference service should always be of the highest quality and may not always be; however, one can question whether studies, books and articles similar to this one accomplish their goals of motivating improved reference service anywhere. This reviewer enjoyed exposure to a wide variety of basic reference tools in a library school reference course. The test on 'what-to-look-for-where' was one of the least inspired exercises encountered. Rather than being sanguine about Dilevko's suggestion regarding testing, and as an educator with an intimate knowledge of the...


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