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Title: The changing role of UK public reference libraries and reference work : an historical analysis
Author: Duckett, Robert John
ISNI:       0000 0004 2675 1750
Awarding Body: Leeds Metropolitan University
Current Institution: Leeds Beckett University
Date of Award: 2008
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The papers presented here represent a selection of my published work on the nature and practice of reference and information work appearing over a period of twenty-one years. The presentation commences with a listing of the publications submitted with an abstract to indicate the nature of their content. After an introduction (Chapter 1) which stresses that the issues addressed arose out of the author's concern about the current development of public library information work, there is an account of the literature relating to the history of the UK public reference library (Chapter 2). This is followed (Chapter 3) with an account of the methods used in the various publications submitted and sets these against the background of research methodology. Particular attention is paid to the validity of historical and qualitative research. Chapters 4 to 7 form the main bulk of this submission. The published work is divided into four subject areas. Given that these publications were written for different audiences for different purposes, any such division is somewhat arbitrary and there is some overlap of content. In Chapter 4 consideration is given to how information services are replacing traditional reference libraries and reference services, and how the lack of clarity between the terms 'reference' and 'information' has produced confusion. It is claimed that the stress on the concept of 'information' has accelerated the decline of reference libraries and of `reference work'. The four texts featured in this section (two of them chapters in books) consider how reference libraries and the ethos of reference service changed after the rise of subject specialization in the 1960s; local government re-organisation; the introduction of specialist information services in the 1970s; the development of new community-based services in the 1980s; the rise of the information culture and electronic services in the 1990s; the reduced reliance on printed sources; and the de-professionalisation of staff in the current era. It is argued that in the continuing 'retreat from reference' and the rapid move to an information culture, much of value is being lost. Chapter 5 looks at the historical context in which reference libraries developed, particularly those in public libraries, following the Public Libraries Act of 1850. Attention is paid to the nature and philosophy of these early public reference libraries. In Chapter 6, the focus is on five specific elements of contemporary reference and information work. The topics selected are: staff selection, stock disposal, enquiry work, reference publishing, and current awareness. These topics provide substance to an understanding of the nature of contemporary reference and information work. In the concluding part of this submission (Chapter 7) an attempt is made to identify what, exactly, it is that has been lost in the shift from 'reference' to 'information'. The claim is made that once there is a better understanding of the nature of traditional 'reference work', then this can be translated to the present-day situation where it can assist to promote a more positive image of the public library.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available