Banks, J. And Pracht, C. (2008). Reference Desk Staffing Trends: A Survey. Reference & User Services Quarterly 48(1), 54-59.
Banks and Pracht (2008) carried out a quantitative research to investigate the current staffing trends at reference desks of academic libraries. The research is conducted from a theoretical framework perspective asserting that there have been changes in libraries, as services are merged and eliminated, users are taught on information literacy, provision of web-based and online reference databases threatening the traditional reference desk. The researchers' main question is whether these changes are causing a change in staffing patterns for reference desk employees. To investigate this problem, survey questions were administered via the internet to respondents comprising of librarians from 191 academic libraries across the U.S. The study results indicate that of those interviewed, 44% show that there was a decrease in questions asked at the reference desks, which linked to alternative reference sources like the internet and web-based library resources. The results are depictive of non-professional staff has not changed over the years as 10-75% serving at reference desks are on-degreed personnel, a majority of them working for more than 16 hours in a week. The libraries require a minimum of reference desk working experience when hiring non-degreed employees. The study's survey revealed that the need for reference desk staff will continue given the need to assist students search for better resources, answer complex and demanding questions, that arise from the increase in the various navigation databases. The study shows that the advent of the internet and web-based resources does not have any tangible effect on employment and use of non-ALA and -- MLS personnel, and is not a primary factor in their employment as reference desk personnel.
Banks and Pracht (2008) research problem was developed around the question whether the changes in referencing used in libraries had a similar effect on staffing patterns of ALA accredited MLS employees. The problem statement is well developed given the ample evidence from literature and well founded critique offered by the researchers. The researchers based their problem on early studies carried out on staffing trends for the reference desk. They then link this background to technological improvements that have eased access to libraries and their material, and how this trend has affected library users. The line of thought used by Banks and Pracht, drives the reader to make a link between IT, user ease to online materials and catalogues and their need for the reference desk and staff.
The research problem is well rooted in the literature presented, as Banks and Pracht (2008) analyzed and discussed findings on professional and non-professional library staff at the reference desk, and in service and prior training offered. Other staffing patterns presented by Banks and Pracht (2008) critique of literature entailed duration of employment, off desk duties, and use of non-professional staff, especially on the fact that most libraries use student assistants. The researches presented the views of studies that have looked at the various factors that affect the use and hire of non-professional employees at the reference desk, and find that there is a gap in finding evidence of practice in current libraries.
This critique finds that the research questions asked were relevant to solving the research problem. This because, Bank and Pracht (2008) investigation identified that staffing patterns at reference desks followed a tradition where non-professionals were used, and therefore sort to find out if this trend continued given the change to use of information technology in libraries. The researchers used questions to establish background knowledge of current reference desks and staffing trends, number of library users who ask questions at these desks, desk staffing, use of non-professionals, duties, working hours, and ability to answer questions. However, it was not easy to identify a clearly structured hypothesis statement, but there were defied research questions used in the survey. Banks and Pracht (2008) appear to have preferred to base their research on the problem statement and finding of the critique of the literature.
Despite the lack of a clear defined hypothesis, it is clear that the research method used to be appropriate and relevant for the research problem. This is because, it offers primary data on the current library conditions especially at the reference desk along with expert opinion on library users use of the desk and staffing practices. This is paramount given the wide gap in literature on the research problem, making methods like a case study or experiment methods irrelevant in producing data with a low margin of error or without bias. Further, given that the main problem of the research was the staffing patterns of reference desks at libraries, this critique finds that survey questions were a more appropriate method to elicit relevant feedback. The method of sampling was relevant given the need to focus on academic libraries for universities with similar capacity and serving the same size of population. The researchers made use of national registered and credible databases to obtain the complete list of academic libraries and contact details for librarians. Banks and Pracht (2008) used random sampling and identified 191 sample populations. However, the article does not detail what method was used- either simple random sampling or systematic, to offer an insight of the probability or the bias of the selection process. Therefore, this creates a gap in the research, which has the potential to present errors in the data due to poor distribution of the sample population over the entire population. I find that proper random sampling should identify a sample population that will represent the entire population and eliminate errors due to geographical, demographic, socio economic, national, and cultural bias.
The research obtained data through survey questions that were administered via the internet using a U-test to have a higher number of respondents, make it easy to retrieve statistical data and make it easier to send reminders. The U-test and pilot test also ensured data quality and credibility (Boynton, 2004). The survey questionnaire prior to the administration was pilot tested, which this critique finds necessary in eliminating errors and ensuring relevance. Given the geographical spread of the sample population, the internet offered an easy and cost effective way to administer the questionnaire and reduced the degree of bias due to impersonality.
Given the data tables presented, it is evident that the data coding method used was appropriate in processing the data. However, Banks and Pracht (2008) did not offer any guidelines of the coding sheet used, the number of persons used in data processing, therefore making it difficult to test the reliability and consistency of the coding process. The researchers used one element of descriptive statistics- percentages- to present survey results. My opinion is that this statistical tool is not adequate for the analysis of the data, though percentages offer a clear picture of the spread of the sample population across the survey questions. Though the researchers used the tool effectively and appropriately presented the results in percentage tables and bar charts, the view that additional statistical analysis was needed to give the reader a clearer picture. Other statistical tools that could have adequately indicated the distribution of the data are like mode, median, mean, to show staffing trends for reference desk across the libraries (Boynton, 2004). These can also show how the libraries staff professional or non-professional staff and the number of library users asking questions at the reference desk. However, despite this gap, Banks and Pracht (2008) adequately interpreted the statistical results reported in the article.
The research design was well formulated, as Banks and Pracht (2008) gives the reader a background to the topic, defines the research problem extensively, with support literature, to the development of research method, presentation of the findings, discussion and conclusion. However, the lack of clearly…