Challenges in Providing Social Sciences Resources and Services in the Changing Library Environment


Outline some of the challenges or issues which affect the resources and services you will provide as a reference librarian to your users in the social sciences disciplines. Describe specific resources and services, providing links to these resources as needed, and include a list of references

Sample paper

Challenges in Providing Social Sciences Resources and Services in the Changing Library Environment

Reference librarians’ role from the start of librarianship has been defined by the clients’ requirements for human facilitation. Reference librarians employ critical thinking skills, question analysis, teaching ability, and emotional intelligence to link the user with suitable resources. Although some libraries created variations, the traditional model engaged face-to-face contact between clients and librarian, who is required to answer every form of question from a single or multipurpose point of services that existed in the paper era. Reference librarians were required to operate in the print collection and library. However, the revolution seeds in reference routines were swiftly sowed by remote data access and public-access computers. Dialog search methods were just the beginning. This was shortly followed by the birth of cyberspace. Upgrading individual computer skills and staying in touch with new technology became an integral part of the duties of reference librarians. The roles of reference librarians in the new intermediate’s infancy evolved to incorporate and nurturing this new developing electronic technology. The attendant teaching role grew to instruction in the application of multiple formats of materials, the internet and the online public access catalogs (OPACs). As the requirement to help clients with technical problems grew, librarians were frustrated by the single point of access that required all forms of assistance sometimes and failed their clients (Zabel, Wolfe, Naylor & Drueke, 2010).

Another major challenge among reference librarians is that their frontline role in operating, initiating, implementing and planning learning commons (LC), is unclear. Learning common refers to a place that brings persons together, to share learning tasks. The learning commons core activity is the collaborative learning in which, learners turn information to wisdom and knowledge. According to Zabel et al. (2010) majority of published scholarly articles regarding LCs mostly center on students at LC centers and very little is done on reference librarians in LCs. This makes it hard for reference librarians to offer their services on those measures. In Zabel et al. (2010) views, The LC model implementation is similar to establishing a household in various ways. It entails the organization restructuring, developing new spaces and learning new skills. The LC evolution, considering its nature normally needs a huge transformational effort by various stakeholders. Although reference librarians contain limited duties in areas that include allocation of resources or space, their ability to cope and adjust in a novel space is an essential component in the learning common success. Reference librarian can assist in developing an organizational culture which embraces, collaboration and communication. However, it is quite challenging to attain the level of knowledge and attitude reference librarian requires, without enough literature materials to aid them in developing knowledge in the LC area (Zabel et al., 2010).

According to Tyckoson (2012), a chief management issue that is directly associated with staffing is the training and education of reference staff and reference librarians. To be effective in offering reference services, involved reference librarians need to establish what information is needed by the user, where that information can be found, how to effectually search for this information, and how to pass this information to the user. Other than the academic training and qualifications needed for an individual to offer the required services, a reference librarian also needs to learn the particulars of the local library environment. In Tyckoson (2012), local politics, local practices, local collections, and local policies, all influence the provision of reference services in any library. Despite how much training an individual has, there will be questions unique to the local environment, which vary from those of other institutions. For instance, clients may ask for a book using a nickname, commonly used in the locality, to ask for a reference not registered under the name. This is a very common phenomenon in social science where local dialects can be easily used to describe a situation or an item. Without knowledge of how locals use some words, then a librarian may find it hard to work with clients. This information is never taught in the coursework. One has to learn and to be in touch with the change of generations, who are likely to come with new nicknames and terminologies to describe different things.

Another major challenge is needed for continuous learning, not just due to the change of technology, but due to the continuous publication of new titles and editions to the existing ones. A librarian is required to identify all possible new sources and know their contents. In the current web-founded reference setting, this progression is accelerated past all comprehension. The web changes from one minute to another and can radically change in a month or week time. Sources that were used by librarians in one day might disappear or change dramatically in the next day. Thus, source-founded reference training is not useful anymore. The situation has thus changed a great deal. According to Tyckoson (2012), rather than centering on resources, training in referencing should center on searching and communication skills. Sources knowledge is no longer a key to reference success, but the aptitude to work with the user to determine the information they actually need; reference interview, and the aptitude to search all possible sources including the Web to establish materials to address that need. Training is in addition needed on all of the varying techniques of communication, for interacting with users for instance telephones, chat, email, instant messaging, and text messaging. This can be quite challenging especially for reference librarian who is older, who find modern technology to be abrupt and overwhelming (Thorpe, 2017).

Another challenge facing social science reference librarians is managing the volumes of publications either electronic or printed publications. A reference librarian needs to keep on adding the new publications in the collection while removing old publications. This was considerably easy in the 1990s when the only source of publication was printing. Today, the volume of published materials, especially in social sciences, is growing at a very high rate, such that it is hard to maintain a manageable volume of references in the field (Tyckoson, 2012). In Tyckoson’s, 2012) views, librarians, particularly reference librarian remain under pressure to show relevance and experience competition from different sources. Some researchers are said to report a reduction in the volume of reference transactions and actual reference questions that are being asked; questions regarding questions that are adequately complex need the help of an expert. This creates anxiety for various reference librarians since reference services have for long been perceived as essential to librarian role.

The pervasive and rapid technological advancement and the aptitude to develop, disseminate, share and capture information have drastically changed how humans interrelate with both knowledge and information and with one another. Libraries’ pressures include changes in demographics in communities, technological advances, and increasing urban migration. Unlike in traditional set-up where reference librarians were used to assist in finding materials, today reference librarian are needed to assist in doing things, which may engage technology that include e-book download (Thorpe, 2017). This may become unnecessary in the future, especially in the generation that is growing exposed to technology, and hence, having the knowledge to do most of the things some people may need help within today’s society.

Another major issue experienced by the reference librarian in the changing library environment is user data privacy and security. The change of technology has forced reference librarians to use modern forms of communication to pass library-related information to their users. This creates privacy concerns at the helm of possible threat to any user taking part in online social networking, especially in university libraries. This happens since a considerable number of people experience physical or mental harm, due to online social media personal information abuse. Social media creates progressive online security risk since personal information of library users on social media can be utilized for financial crimes. Thus reference librarians are faced with the challenge of ensuring that users’ personal information they use to enhance library queries communication, is not a subject of internet threats (Amina & Nwanne, 2015).

A social science reference librarian in the current era needs to know existing resources in the field. There are a lot of online sources containing an extensive range of information in social science. The main challenge, in this case, is understanding every resource site and information that can be sourced from those sites. Knowing where patrons can source-specific information online is quite a challenge, especially based on the dynamic nature of web-based materials as described above. Some of the sources that social science reference librarians must be conversant with include ProQuest;, Umass Boston Healey Library;, university libraries;, and EBSCO; among others. One of the main challenges about the electronic database is that they may require subscription, which the library may not be willing to pay. This can result in additional cost for the reference librarians as they try to familiarize themselves with more materials that they can refer their patrons to. In addition, there is limited access to university libraries, which means only reference librarians permitted to access them can source materials from them. This means a social science reference librarians need to take a step further at an individual level to access all possible materials that patrons may need in their research. They need to direct the patrons on where they can access the material they need, especially in electronic databases, which are wide and dynamic. This means they must remain in touch with changes taking place in those libraries, and be of great use to patrons on measures they can employ, to ensure they get what they need. This includes guiding them on online prescription in some databases. This is a process that may require the building of trust, as many such processes involve electronic payment, which patron may not be conversant with (Emezie & Nwaohiri, 2013).

Problem Statement

The library environment has been experiencing serious changes with the change of technology. Today most patrons can access their primary materials from the internet rather than in a physical library. With good computer and internet skills, an individual can comfortably get any all the required reference materials without the need for reference librarian assistance. These changes challenge the relevance of reference librarians in the future. Moreover, most of the old librarians with little knowledge of the changing technology are losing relevance in the current library system. The main problem is that most librarians are not prepared for the current changes in terms of needed skills and knowledge. Reference librarians are experiencing a number of challenges to handle the changing library environment, especially the dynamic nature of library characterized by rapid change of library materials, change of technology and different means accessing library materials. In addition, the new technology is easing the process of library material access on the internet, eliminating the need for librarians in materials access. The main problem is whether the social reference librarian will still be relevant in the changing library environment in the future.

Literature Review

In Ayeni (2015) views, the information and Communication Technology (ICT) influx has impacted the manner in which information services are offered to the library users. It has created a change in the behavior of library users towards getting library information via the reference librarian. Institutional repositories, internet, open educational resources, and search engine have all made a contribution to this occurrence. Users seem to over-emphasize the requirement to refer to the reference librarian for any query. According to Ayeni (2015), the reference librarian activities ad roles are changing in the information age. The main question remains on the reference librarian relevance in the 21st century. In Ayeni’s (2015) view, ICT has not downgraded the background of reference librarians but has just altered their activities, roles, and nomenclature. It has also made their roles user-friendly, extra effective, and though challenging reference work has for a long time depended on patrons seeking librarians’ assistance. Faculty, students, and other users have to actively find reference help. However, it is extra common today for patrons to get answers from the internet instead of seeking assistance from a reference librarian.

The emergence of social media and digital technologies has not just diversified information services and information but also allowed library users to contribute to and engage in library services development. This implies that social media and emerging technologies have permitted users to play extended and new roles that they were unable to play in the past. Due to Web 2.0, the cut line between the librarians and users is starting to blur. Similar to librarians, users can now obtain means and responsibilities to be information providers, information creators, and information contributors. The creation and consumption of content are changing thus the users and librarians’ roles (Nguyen, Partridge & Edwards, 2012). According to Weiss (2016), the web provides everything that a good library needs. It can be regarded as non-judgmental, confidential technology, offering easy access to uncensored information wealth, and providing an inspirational and creative space. Reference librarians in the web age are hardly approached with simple queries on reference since Wikipedia and Google can frequently answer these kinds of questions effectively, quickly and comfortably.

The notion of the internet as a potential competitor to librarians has also been embraced by a number of scholars. According to Appiah, Adams and Adu (2016), ICT, internet, Google among other commercial information providers are offering fierce completion to library personnel and libraries. Technology changes in academic libraries offer initiation of alterations in the services offered by these libraries. Alterations in academic libraries advance from a simple shift in technology or procedures to shift of evolutional roles in the library (Appiah, Adams & Adu, 2016). According to Thorpe (2017), libraries, particularly reference services are under pressure to show relevancy and experience competition from various sources. A number of researchers have reported a reduction in the number of reference transactions and a reduction in the number of asked reference questions that are complex enough to need expert assistance. This results in the development of anxiety among reference librarians since reference services have been perceived as important to who librarian is or what he or she does for a long time. In Yatin, Kanan, Kamarudin and Zainuddin (2018) view, the pervasive and rapid advances in technology and the aptitude to capture, disseminate, share, and create information have radically changed how human interaction with knowledge and information and with one another. Extra libraries pressures include technology advances, growing urban migration, and communities’ demographic changes. Nevertheless, despite the pressure, libraries in Thorpe’s (2017) views contain the change to adapt the core role in the economy of knowledge. Libraries in the 21st century have the chance to nurture a local connectedness and a sense of belonging in communities as a safe, trusted place (Thorpe, 2017).


The library environment has highly been impacted by the change of technology, especially the advancement of digital technology, the use of internet and social media in the world. As a result, patrons can now access the required references with the need for reference librarians, especially among the young generation with high computer and internet skills. The situation highly threatens the role of reference librarians in the library as the rate of their utilization in offering materials and answering serious questions diminishes. This creates the need to investigate the relevance of reference librarians in future libraries, especially as the majority of users focus on by-passing them to acquire the materials they need over the internet.


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