PDA Event: "What do you mean?": A conversation about user-centered reference for academic health information

Thursday, July 22, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Providing reference services requires managing uncertainty, both for users and for library workers. As information professionals, we are tasked with bridging the gap between our expertise in information science and users' knowledge of their discipline. Yet there can be a disconnect between health sciences users' understanding of an inquiry and our own, misunderstandings potentially exacerbated by difficulties communicating in virtual environments. What role does context play in both the asking and understanding of reference questions? How do we identify the implicit assumptions in our interactions? And how do we improve these consultations in virtual spaces?

In this workshop, we will share experiences about user interactions in reference services, with a goal of discussing as a group how to best communicate with our users during academic reference interviews. We will facilitate a conversation between participants and presenters to explore how our users approach academic libraries with similar questions, but for different reasons and at different times in their lives, and how this has changed when our reference consultations are entirely online. We will discuss how our constantly changing interaction with the world creates new knowledge and ways to bridge these gaps for library users -- and ourselves.

Working in groups, we will explore through conversation how we make sense of the academic health sciences questions our patrons are asking and how to approach these gaps in virtual consultations. We will discuss:

  • What assumptions do we have about the patron in a reference consultation? What assumptions do you think the patron has about us?
  • What are the gaps between the language and needs of the patron and the goal of their questions?
  • How can we facilitate these informed consultations over video reference?

This one-hour interactive workshop is intended for all library staff members, particularly those working in academic health sciences and medical spaces, as well as library science students and anyone who works with academic health subjects and health-related questions. The presenters recognize that learning is an ongoing process and aim for this to be a sharing opportunity for workers at all experience levels.

Working as a group to consider health literacy from patrons' perspectives, participants will:

  • Be able to approach reference consultations as user-focused experiences
  • Recognize our own information seeking behaviors
  • Feel more comfortable engaging with reference consultations in virtual spaces

Alyn Gamble, Research Librarian for the Sciences, Tisch Library, Tufts University;
Christina Heinrich, Research and Instruction Librarian, Hirsh Health Sciences Library, Tufts University;
Andrea Kang, Research and Instruction Librarian, Hirsh Health Sciences Library, Tufts University;
Sarah Passinhas-Bergman, Library Reference Assistant, Hirsh Health Sciences Library, Tufts University

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Sponsored by BLC