Reference collections: dilemmas?

INN332 – Information Retrieval

Reading notes on ‘fluffy’ wishful thinking.

Singer’s history of the (American) library ready reference collection is an informative insight into more than a century’s reasoning about library practices, but omits one important point: what happens when the power is off, or the network is offline?

Such scenarios are out of sight and out of mind these days, but make me wonder whether we have not become too reliant on digital information sources and the internet. Do we need a little of both – hard-copy and digital resources?

Detmering & Sproles’ 2012 account of how a new reference collections policy was developed is engaging and persuasive – up to a point. I fear that abstracting ideological decisions about ontology – what can be known and how – as expressed in the choice of information sources made available by libraries, will descend into the insane Silicon Valley-driven quest to ‘demote’ the importance of some types of information in favour of others by resort to ‘popular’ usage patterns, or other, more commercially-oriented considerations. If there ever was a case to be made for safeguarding a cultural and civilised heritage via ontological pluralism, it exists for the public libraries on which billions of people still depend for information about their political and social choices.

My point is that I would not think well of a library that had lightning fast responses to questions about romance novels, thrillers, DVDs and comic books, but no responses at all about academic publications, detailed or specialised subject matter references, and obscure titles or items (case in point: look up Adam Curtis and see how many titles come up in various library catalogues).


Detmering, R. & Sproles, C. (2012). Reference in transition: A case study in reference collection development. Collection Building, 31(1), 19-22. doi: 10.1108/01604951211199146

Singer, C.A. (2010). Ready reference collections. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(3), 253-264.

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