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Reference Services for Children

Reference services for children: information needs and wants in the public library

Anita Brown


Public libraries in Australia have historically offered very successful recreational reading programs for children. Librarians have perfected the art of storytelling, demonstrated their many abilities to integrate craft activities into the library experience and have devised captivating and imaginative school holiday programs for children under 14 years old. However, the provision of reference and information services for this age group has received very little attention although it has always been an area of debate. There exists strong support for the view that the level of service provided to children for information services should be minimal as the library has a duty to ensure the ‘educational’ aspect of the child’s library experience. Children should be instructed on how to ‘do it themselves’ rather than have the answer found for them.

The converse of this argument centres on the premise of equity of access to library services: the child asking a question in the library should receive the same level of guidance and assistance as does the adult patron. Debate on the level of reference and information services provided to children must also acknowledge the argument that it is the school library which should be meeting their reference and informational needs. However there is growing research and interest in the responsibilities of both school and public libraries to develop partnerships to delivery quality reference services to children. Library staff may perceive children in the library to be ‘difficult’, ‘disorganised’ and ‘disinterested’. These attitudes and beliefs can be countered through promoting an understanding that the characteristics and traits of children must be considered for the effective delivery of reference services.

The underlying assumption guiding this literature review is that children have special information needs that cannot be met through the services traditionally offered by public libraries. Children are both ‘overlooked and underserved’ by the one-size-fits-all approach to reference services offered by many libraries (Dixon, 1996). It is intended here to explore the special needs and requirements of the child as a ‘reference client’ and identify opportunities for the public library to take a greater role in meeting her information needs.

…one searches the literature in vain for surveys, research, and reports of innovative practices in giving reference [service] to … children (Orsini 1970 p159)

This statement remains indicative of the amount of published material relating to reference and information services for children. Whilst the mid- to late-1980s saw an increase in writings on this topic, Overmyer (1995, p40) stated that ‘we just don’t write about children’s reference much’. Since the mid-1990s a flurry of publishing activity has occurred. This may be merely coincidental or linked to a growing awareness and concern as to the public library’s role in educating for information literacy, and the implied social responsibility that the public library should take an active role in preparing children for the world of the future. Common themes emerge from the literature which the highlight the special requirements of the child with respect to reference and information services. Most, if not very nearly all, of the work is published in the United States. Much of the content consists of short, anecdotal narratives with very few comprehensive research studies detailed. Many more questions are posed than are answered. Overmyer’s statement quoted above should perhaps have the codicil ‘and when we do, we don’t do it well’!

Libraries acknowledge that children have special recreational reading needs. This is evidenced by the designated children’s areas that are an integral part of the library and which are well-stocked with picture books and easy reading material. Children’s fiction is located in a separate area from adult fiction and the transition from early reading to more advanced works is carefully guided. The library’s collection of children’s non-fiction materials, each often selected by the ‘children’s specialist’ to suit the younger reader, is also demonstrative of the recognition that children require specific materials to meet their information needs. It follows from this that children also require specific reference services and techniques to assist them access this information.

Challenges for children and children’s reference services

Too short, too noisy, too uninterested and too many! These may well be some of the responses when library staff are asked to comment on children in the library. Yet these traits all have relevance in determining the success or otherwise of the child’s information seeking experience. Where children compete with adults for the librarian’s attention, an adult request may often be perceived as ‘more important’. Children lack experience, have limited vocal skills, have different information requests to adults and may even be too short to see over the reference desk (Horning, 1994b; Dixon, 1996; Burton, 1998; Gross, 2000)! This does not mean that their request is not important to them.

The level of reference service that should be and is provided to children in libraries is a topic of much debate. For many, the library experience is to be ‘educational’ and the child should be instructed, rather than assisted. The dilemma of the child in the library is clearly illustrated when the comparison is made between a library experience and a shopping expedition. A child would not be sent shopping alone, yet is pushed by both parents and library staff to ‘perform’ in the library (Horning, 1994b). The opposing view is raised by those who believe that the issue is one of equity of service delivery: the adult client participates in a reference interview and time is taken to locate appropriate resources and follow-up where required. By extension, therefore, the same service should be provided to the child. This tension between providing equity of service with other groups and the desire to foster independent use is explored by several authors (Hogan, 1986; Bunge, 1994; Overmyer, 1995; Bolin & Dyson, 2000; Gross, 2000).

Children’s developmental needs

Library professionals need to have an understanding of the environmental context in which children operate to be best able to deliver services (Gross, 2000). A critical component of the environmental context is an awareness of the different developmental stages the child progresses through and an understanding of how these stages effect information needs. Kuhlthau (1986) and Bishop and Salveggi (2001) draw from the work of developmental psychologist Piaget to explain how the information needs of children change as the child develops. Whilst Kuhlthau has developed her observations in school libraries the findings are equally applicable to the public library environment.

The first developmental stage is that of early childhood (age 2 to 7) and in Piaget’s terms, this is the ‘pre-operational stage’ (Bishop & Salveggi, 2001). Children at this stage are very egocentric: they view the world from their own perspective and expect others to hold the same point of view (Kuhlthau, 1986). Pre-operational characteristics include a lack of communication skills and the inability to see objects as belonging to more than one class (Bishop & Salveggi, 2001). Generally speaking pre-operational children are also incapable of the logical perspective of adults and because they operate in an egocentric manner, and see only what is around them: they are never, in their perception, wrong (Bishop & Salveggi, 2001).

Middle childhood, the second stage of development, is marked between the ages of 8 to 10. Children at this stage can perform what Piaget refers to as concrete operations (Kuhlthau, 1986). The concrete-operational child is capable of thinking, but this thinking is grounded in a concrete object or a concrete experience (Kuhlthau, 1986). They also begin to apply logical thought to concrete problems (Bishop & Salveggi, 2001).

The third stage of development is between the ages of 11 to 14 and is referred to as ‘pre-adolescence’ (Kuhlthau, 1986). This is a period of rapid growth where the children in this grouping have a wide range of ability, levels of maturity and differences in personal interests (Kuhlthau, 1986). In Piaget’s terms, the child is moving from concrete operational into the final stage of ‘formal operational’.

The fourth stage of development is adolescence (15 to 18) and is outside the scope of this review.

Implications for libraries

How then can the knowledge of these developmental stages be relevant to reference services for children? With respect to the needs of early childhood, reading to and exposing this age group to a variety of books meets their basic information need (Kuhlthau,1986). In relation to the child’s knowledge of the library, the 5 to 7 year old can ‘know’ that libraries have books, and that books are arranged in a certain order, but any further information is beyond their comprehension (Kulthau, 1986). This point is supported in the work of Salveggi and Bishop (2001) who state that it is better to provide direct access to information rather than try to explain how the library collection is organised. These points have implications for the librarian assisting the early childhood client. When a child requests specific information, they must be led to it and not be given a call number on a slip of paper or have the ‘directional finger’ pointed for them.

The ‘egocentrism’ of early childhood explains why children may frequently interrupt an adult conversation: they lack the communication and socialisation skills to recognise what is happening around them (Bishop & Salveggi, 2001). The frustrating discussion that may occur when a librarian tries to elicit further details of the request from the child when all the information that is forthcoming is ‘I want the golden goose book’ is illustrative of the egocentrism also: ergo ‘I know what book I want, it is obvious to me and therefore it must be obvious to you’. Often the librarian serving the information needs of the 5 to 7 year old needs to have a good deal of intuition, patience – and luck!

In middle childhood children have a basic need to expand their knowledge base (Kuhlthau, 1986). Generally, the child can only cope with one source of information at a time, but from the age of nine may begin to utilise two sources (Kuhlthau, 1986). As the child’s logical thought processes develop now is the time to begin a basic ‘library education’ as the child can begin, with guidance, to locate items using the catalogue and call numbers (Kuhlthau, 1986). It is important, however, that children experience success in order to build self-confidence in searching for information (Bishop and Salveggi, 2001). The librarian must monitor the information seeking process without appearing to dominate it. They must foster the child’s skills without making the child feel inadequate (Kuhlthau, 1986).

In pre-adolescence the child is developing the ability to think in abstract terms and can form the hypotheses needed for basic research assignments (Kuhlthau, 1986). It is the subject matter of the given school assignments which drives the information need at this stage (Kuhlthau, 1986; Bolin & Dyson, 2000).

If library services are planned and delivered with the developmental limitations of the child in mind, then the interaction between staff member and child can be both a rewarding experience and effective information exchange.

The child as ‘future’ client

Public libraries have always been conscious of the fact that the child patron of today is the adult patron of tomorrow – even if they do vanish between fourteen and twenty. The need to foster the ‘future client’ is an important one and it can be argued that the public library has some social responsibility towards ensuring that the children of today are equipped to lead the world of tomorrow. Fasick (1998) develops the issue of social responsibility and poses the point that as the population ages attention for services is more likely to be focussed on the elderly. The library needs of the child and the elderly will be in direct competition. The young are an important client group whose needs must continue to be met and not overshadowed by the demands placed for services tailored to an ageing population (Fasick, 1998). Fasick (1998) argues that now is the time for libraries to be concentrating on developing services for children, as it is the children who will be responsible for delivering the support services, the economic wellbeing and the political structure ‘that will make it possible for the elderly to live well’.

It is also evident that the experiences children have in the library throughout early childhood and pre-adolescence affect the way that they use libraries in adolescence and adulthood (Kuhlthau, 1986). Libraries must deliver a quality reference service to the young to ensure that they do indeed choose to be the clients of the future. A conscious effort must be made to ensure that libraries, however, do not just serve children as ‘patrons of tomorrow’ but as ‘patrons of today’ (Burton, 1998). It is only by working to ensure that library staff have the skills to serve children well will the child value the library and remain the patron of the future (Burton, 1998). The public library has an important role to play for these future citizens:

Public libraries can play a major role in fostering in children the desire for education and in helping them develop the skills for obtaining the kind of ever-changing knowledge necessary to survive and prosper…(Fasick 1998 pxiv).

These skills can only be developed through appropriate and effective reference and information services.

Partnerships with the school library

Generally public libraries place less emphasis on supporting curriculum needs and the particular needs of teachers and schools (Riechel, 1991). It is becoming widely accepted that both school and public libraries have a role to provide resources to complement students’ curriculum and literary needs (Fitzgibbons, 2000). There is a growing need for partnerships between school and public libraries which will shift the long-established emphasis that this responsibility is the school library’s alone. In addition the impact that computer and information literacy has had in the community is driving the need for better partnerships between the school and public library (Fitzgibbons, 2000). Similarly, the growing need for co-operation arises from the simple fact that no single library can provide every item needed in the information age (Fitzgibbons, 2000). Case studies pertaining to joint-use libraries are numerous and there are many arguments both for and against their continued creation. However, it may be the partnerships rather than co-location which can offer the best outcome for service delivery for all library patrons.

Recently, considerable research has been undertaken in the United States to examine the growing importance of the roles and relationships of school and public library services. A major work is that of Fitzgibbons (2000) who explores the range of successful, co-operative relationships between such libraries in the context of United States government education reform policy and the goal of improving student learning. A co-operative relationship, it is assumed, will improve library services and provide children with better access to resources in their search for ‘information, knowledge and learning’ (Fitzgibbons, 2000). Fitzgibbons also assumes that it is the co-operative relationships between two separate institutional settings, and not joint-use facilities, which are the essential ingredients in achieving the educational reform and increased student learning that the United States government is seeking. Joint-use libraries also require purpose-built facilities and can only be established after extensive consultation with all stakeholders. For many libraries it is the general efforts at co-operation and collaboration which will enhance service delivery for children, particularly in relation to reference and information services.

General efforts at co-operation can include a shared vision, common goals and joint policies and procedures (Fitzgibbons, 2000). With respect to school and public library partnerships in relation to reference and information services Fitzgibbons (2000) identifies the following opportunities:

  • the sharing of information about respective resources;
  • development of open communication channels, for example, facilitating assignment alerts;
  • joint collection development;
  • the teaching of information skills; and
  • instituting homework help centres.

Research has also been undertaken into the linkages between school libraries and academic achievement (Lance, Rodney, & Hamilton-Pennell 1993, 2000). The idea that the public library has a social responsibility to provide equity of access to reference and information services to children was discussed earlier. It can also be argued that it should contribute to the learning process of the child by investigating and pursuing options which facilitate the best delivery of reference and information services to facilitate the child’s learning. The public library can make an important contribution to children’s learning. The issue is a little more complex than the controversial over-simplification that school library staff do not have time for individual student requests but public library staff do! (Bolin & Dyson, 2000).

Conducting a reference interview with a child who has a limited understanding of what they are seeking, who lacks the communication skills to state her request clearly, and who may not be fully committed to the whole ‘library experience’ can be difficult. The techniques and processes relating to the ‘art’ of the reference interview have been well documented in library literature. The reference interview conducted with the child warrants a more detailed analysis of the unique circumstances which may be in effect. As Walter (1994) states, in the adult reference interaction the time is spent after the question is asked. With children’s reference work the time and attention is required to determine what the question actually is (Walter, 1994).

The ‘imposed query’

The concept of the ‘imposed query’ is one that has particular relevance to children’s reference work. It is widely accepted that in many instances people seek information on behalf of others. The ‘others’ may be too busy to come to the library, may be too embarrassed, or may simply be unaware that there is a place in which they can seek information. The process of seeking information on behalf of others is referred to as the ‘imposed query’ (Gross, 1995, 2000). The reference needs of children are primarily driven by the requirement to seek information to enable them to complete a given school assignment. These requests are ‘imposed’ on the child: the question they are seeking answers to is not one of their own choosing (Gross, 2000). Certainly, children will at times require assistance with ‘self-generated’ queries: that is, topics of their own choosing based on their personal interests. The librarian requires the skill to differentiate between the two types of queries (Gross, 2000).

Imposed queries add an element of difficulty to the reference transaction. Generally, when a request is self-selected, the child will already have a degree of understanding as to what she is seeking and why. She may have considerable background knowledge of the topic and be able to clearly communicate her information request. The child who presents with an ‘imposed’ query however, may be lacking in the knowledge of the context of that request (Gross, 2000). Coupled with poor communication skills and the inability to articulate the request in a logical manner, the librarian is now faced with a complex task – mind reading and extra-sensory skills are an advantage!

A further challenge of the ‘imposed query’ may be the very nature of the task. Teachers may specify certain works that are to be consulted or excluded as a resource. This can create difficulties: the sources that must be consulted may be unavailable or unsuitable and the excluded resources may be just what is required. An instant conflict is created both for the child and the librarian. Another challenge of the imposed query is that the child has a great need to ‘match’ terms to those that the imposer uses and have great difficulty in generating alternative search terms (Moore & St George, 1991; Horning 1994; Gross, 2000). The child also often seeks an exact match between the question asked and the books located (Moore & St George, 1991). They rely very heavily on the title and book cover information and, importantly, many children do not understand the use of the table of contents or the index (Moore & St George, 1991).

When these challenges are considered in conjunction with the implications of cognitive ability based on developmental progression, the potential success of either the child or the librarian to locate information which is perceived to be relevant or useful is questionable indeed! In fact, Moore and St George (1991) raise the interesting, and often all too true, point that many teachers seem unaware of the complexity of the task they are setting as they themselves lack necessary information skills: the information they provide their students is inadequate if not misleading. Librarians need to be aware of the fact that the child may not be able to complete the assignment they are given (Kuhlthau, 1986).

The three-way reference interview

This is also a distinguishing component of reference work with children (Horning, 1994). The three parties in the reference interview are the librarian, the child and the adult who accompanied the child to the library (Gross, 2000). This adult/child/librarian interaction occurs so frequently that it must be accepted that ‘as long as there are children asking questions in public libraries there are going to be adults either in the background or in the foreground’ (Horning, 1994).

It is the role the adult takes in the interview that can assist or complicate the process. The adult may participate as a role model in that they demonstrate the negotiation process for the child (Gross, 2000). The adult may also facilitate the reference interview by acting as a mediator to help the child negotiate the question with the librarian (Gross, 2000). This is a particularly useful function when the small child has difficulty articulating her needs (Bishop & Salveggi, 2001). It is when the adult takes on the role of gatekeeper or imposer that the process becomes complicated. The gatekeeper adult is present to ensure that the child has access to or is denied access to certain resources (Gross, 2000). The adult who ‘imposes’ determines what the child will search for (Gross, 2000). The challenge for the librarian is to negotiate the potential minefield and provide an answer which is satisfactory to both parties – and avoids alienating either (Horning, 1994; Gross, 2000).

Information needs and information wants

Linked to the concept of the ‘imposed query’ is the dichotomy of information needs versus information wants. Whilst this is not an element referred to in the majority of the literature it is an interesting point worth consideration. A child may need information about poisonous snakes in Australia but they may not necessarily want it. How is this possible? Without the information they cannot complete a given assignment: a teacher has imposed the question and created an information need (Walter, 1994). They may have no interest in the topic at all and do not personally really want the information. The opposite may occur when a child wants a book on cartoon characters. The librarian cannot argue that this is what the child ‘wants’ but they may question whether it is what they really ‘need’ (Walter, 1994).

Walter draws from research on general information needs and applies this directly to the information needs of the child. She claims that an important aspect of children’s information needs is based on the point that ‘people frequently need things without being aware of the need’. Children lack a frame of reference to articulate their information needs because of their lack of worldly experience. Therefore, adults must articulate their needs for them. This articulation occurs not only in the most literal sense as when the adult participates in the three-way reference transaction, but the primary articulation occurs when the adult seeks to infer information needs which ‘they perceive to be important’. This is exemplified by the teacher who perceives that a child needs to have information about geography; the health care worker who perceives that the child should have information about drugs of addiction; and the parent who identifies a need for the child to know about bicycle safety (Walter, 1994).

She also sets out to explore the issue of children’s information needs based on the hypothesis as stated above. It is unfortunate that her goal ‘to obtain rich, qualitative data that would lend itself to deep analysis’ is perhaps hampered by the fact that her work appears to survey a disproportionate number of low income, poorly-educated people and also collects information only from adults. Considered in conjunction with a study methodology firmly grounded in the American social and ethnic construct, her strongly championed findings should be carefully considered before being used as a blueprint to guide Australian libraries.

Delivering a quality service: techniques for success (a how-to check-list)

Given the traits and characteristics of children and the influences on their information requests the successful reference interview and subsequent ‘delivery’ of pertinent information may appear to be elusive. However there are many strategies recommended which can be used to compile a check-list of approaches and techniques to facilitate effective reference and information services for children – thus tipping the odds of sustained success firmly the way of the dedicated librarian.

The reference transaction

There are techniques which can be implemented to draw out the child, particularly in the three-way reference interview. It is important not to patronise the child and at the same time, care must be taken not to alienate the accompanying adult (Horning, 1994b; Gross, 2000). To achieve this librarians should ask children to verify statements the adult makes and continue to direct questions to the child, even if it is the adult who responds (Horning, 1994b; Gross, 2000). The librarian needs to be conscious of the ‘imposed query’ and allow ‘wait time’ for the child to respond to questioning. This allows the child time to process in order to make the question their own (Bolin & Dyson, 2000). It may also be useful if the process is personalised and the opportunity taken to model good information seeking skills. A statement such as ‘If I were looking for this, I would start with the catalogue and search for…’ followed by the ‘doing’ of the action is far more effective than a directive telling the child what to do and a point off into the distance (Bolin & Dyson, 2000).

The library environment

It is important to create an environment in which children and their questions are taken seriously (Horning, 1994). Much has been written regarding the physical layout and design of libraries to make them appealing to children. Children’s fiction areas are often the visual focal point of any given library with their universal use of bright colours, small furniture and the face-out way in which shiny picture books are displayed. It is the physical access to reference services for the child which may be overlooked. Librarians must question whether the child patron can even see over the reference desk in their libraries. If not, a lower section in one part can address this need (Dixon, 1996). Bunge (1994) advocates the development of good user guides and bibliographic instruction programs to facilitate children’s reference and information needs. Mindful of the earlier discussion of child’s developing cognitive state and their ability to think logically and follow a structured program, these aids are only of use to some children and not a panacea for all. There is a danger that the library can assume that good reference service to children can be delivered simply through the printing and distribution of glossy brochures.

Overmeyer (1995) espouses the value of ready reference files to preserve answers to assignment questions. This is a technique, one hopes, that is being used less and less in Australian libraries as it does not foster the development of library skills in children: instead they see the reference desk as the distribution point for ‘easy answers’. That is not to say that the librarian cannot be prepared to answer the same question, or minor variations, repeatedly as children complete a given assignment. Instead they can undertake more proactive approaches such as liaising with schools and getting copies of assignment sheets as they are distributed to children, thus allowing the librarian to ‘get ahead of the question’ (Gross, 2000).

Professional development

Dixon (1996) offers a much broader approach to the issue of ‘how’ than addressed by others. She argues that quality reference and information services for children can be best delivered by well-informed and aware staff. The library should invite guest speakers to address the special skills required by staff to communicate successfully with young children (Dixon, 1996). This would develop a network of outside ‘experts’ who could be called on to offer advice in the reference interview (Dixon, 1996). As most libraries could not realistically have a child development ‘expert’ on standby to help with that difficult desk interaction this is not an entirely suitable solution. However the use of specialists to train and advise library staff is a valid point indeed. This point is supported by Kuhlthau (1986) who advocates that libraries seek advice in relation to the appropriate tasks and delivery methods for providing reference services based on the child’s developmental stages. There is one other key area in which staff can be educated to ensure that children’s reference requests are handled both appropriately and effectively. It is important for library staff to develop an awareness of the beliefs and stereotypes they hold in relation to children and their information needs (Gross, 2000). Whilst it may not be possible to change these beliefs and stereotypes in the shorter term, awareness of them enables staff to adjust their behaviours accordingly.

Setting standards

To facilitate the delivery of quality reference and information services to children it is important to have accepted guidelines or standards to use for benchmarking purposes. America, United Kingdom and Australia have all published variously detailed standards or guidelines.

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Assocation first approved a statement of ‘Competencies for librarians serving children in public libraries’ in 1989. The aim of this document was to ensure that effective library service was provided to children. A major review was undertaken of the competencies in 1999 and they now stand as a guiding blueprint for library service to children in America.The guiding principle of the document is the philosophy that children are ‘entitled to the full range of library materials and services available to any other library customer’ (ALSC, 1999). Whilst these are broad competencies covering all areas of service to children, mention is made of specific competencies which relate to reference and information services for children.

The Library and Information Services Council (England) produced a report Investing in children (1995) following a review of library and information needs of children and an analysis of the extent to which their needs were being met by existing library services. As a major response to the report the Library Association (UK) published comprehensive guidelines for public library services for children (1997). This is a much more detailed document than its American counterpart and details many aspects of children’s reference services.

In 1992 the Australian Library and Information Association adopted a Statement on library services to young people in Australia (ALIA, 1992a). The statement highlights only the basic requirements of library service to children and young adults. It is however a document designed to be read in conjunction with Towards a quality service: goals, objectives and standards for public libraries in Australia (ALIA, 1992b). The usefulness of these two publications as benchmarking tools is debatable, given both their briefness and age.


The quality of the reference service offered depends on the evaluation procedures and processes established (Riechel, 1991). Just as there has been little written specifically on the delivery of reference and information services to children, there is also a sparsity of literature relating to the evaluation of such a service. Reference services to children can be evaluated using standard procedures for library services, however, there are a number of points that can be made to highlight the need for specific evaluation methods for children’s reference services. Hogan (1986) asserts that measurement of services cannot be undertaken until librarians recognise that this group has special needs and in order to assess the dimensions of this need statistics should be collected. Very few libraries maintain statistics for children’s questions. The exception to this would be at those libraries which have a designated ‘children’s department’ as is more prevalent in the United States.

The American Library Association recognised the need for guidance on specific measures for library services to children under 14 with the publication of Output measures for public library service to children (Walter 1992). This manual cautions of the need to take into account the seasonal nature of public library services for children when evaluating services and the need to collect data accordingly: the school year produces very different demands than the holiday periods (Walter, 1992).

The specific statistics recommended for collection to measure children’s reference and information services are:

  • children’s fill rate – percentage of searches for library materials by users age 14 and under, and adults acting on behalf of children, that are successful;
  • homework fill rate – proportion of searches for information and/or library materials for homework use by library users age 14 and under, and adults acting on behalf of children, that are successful;
  • children’s information transactions per child – number of information transactions by library users age 14 and under, and adults acting on behalf of children, per person age 14 and under in the community served; and
  • children’s information transaction completion rate – percentage of information transactions by persons age 14 and under, and by adults acting on behalf of children, that are completed successfully (Walter, 1992).

Immroth and Lance (1996) recommend that staff must be convinced as to the value of collecting statistics, based on a report they completed surveying libraries in relation to the Output measures (1992) document (Immroth and Lance 1996). One finding they made was that between eighty to ninety per cent of users of ‘children’s services’ have their needs met – a credible goal for the children’s services advocate (Immroth & Lance 1996). They also concluded that there is a need for more and better data on children’s services, as there is a direct link between the measurement of service and improved service delivery (Immroth & Lance, 1996).

Gross (2000) argues that the imposed query has implications for service evaluation. How does a library assess whether the needs of the imposer have been met? The suggestion is to ask ‘who needs the information’ and to also include a category for the imposed query when collecting statistics.


Many of the strategies and programs for children’s reference and information services that are in particular discussed by American authors presuppose that there is a children’s or youth librarian in situ. This is not the case in the majority of Australian libraries where the role usually falls to that public librarian who is either seen to have the most time on their hands, children of their own, or who has a flair for art and craft. Hogan (1995) argues that children need advocates to present the case for special services and that their needs to be accepted as special. For Australian libraries in particular, this becomes essential as the lack of a children’s or youth librarian prevents children’s services from having a ‘voice’.

The child as reference client requires skilled and considered assistance. There are many opportunities for the public library to take a greater role in meeting the information needs of the young client. This can be achieved through: educating staff to raise awareness of children’s needs and introducing strategies to meet these needs; fostering partnerships with schools and reviewing and evaluating existing children’s reference and information services. The challenge for libraries which have begun this process or who are well on the path to developing successful reference and information services for children is to publish widely to champion the cause. Children are not only the clients of the future. They are the future.


ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) (1992a) Statement on public library services to young people in Australia (online).http://www.ala.org/aasl/SLMR/vol3/relationships/relationships_main.html [Accessed 27 May 2002].

Gross, M (1995) ‘The imposed query’ RQ, vol 35 nº2, pp236-243.

Gross, M (2000) ‘The imposed query and information services for children’ Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, vol 13 nº2, pp10-17.

Hogan, PM (1986) ‘Do questions count? How to evaluate reference services to children and young adults’ Catholic Library World, vol 57 nº6, pp264-66.

Horning K (1994a) ‘Fishing for questions’ Wilson Library Bulletin, vol 68 nº9, pp57-60.

Horning, K (1994b) ‘How can I help you? The joys and challenges of reference work with children’ Show Me Libraries, vol 45, pp9-19.

Immroth, BF & Lance, KC (1996) ‘Output measures for children’s services in public libraries: a status report’ Public Libraries, July/August, pp240-245.

Kuhlthau, C (1986) ‘Stages in child and adolescent development and implications for library instructional programs’ in Information seeking: basing services on user’s behaviours ed. J Varlejs. McFarland, Jefferson, NC

Lance, KC, Rodney, MJ & Hamilton-Pennell, C (2000) How school librarians help kids achieve standards: the second Colorado study Hi Willow Research & Publishing, San Jose, CA

Lance, KC, Welborn, L & Hamilton-Pennell, C (1993) The impact of school library media centers on academic achievement Hi Willow Research & Publishing, San Jose, CA

Library and Information Services Council (England) (1995) Investing in children, (DNH Library Information Series No 22) HMSO London.

Library Association (1997) Children and young people: Library Association guidelines for public library services. 2nd ed Library Association Publishing, London.

Moore, P & St George, A (1991) ‘Children as information seekers: the cognitive demands of books and library systems’ School Library Media Quarterly, Spring pp161-168.

Orsini, LK (1971) ‘Reference service to children – past, present, and future’ Advances in Librarianship [Vol] 1 quoted in Hogan PM 1986 ‘Do questions count? How to evaluate reference services to children and young adults Catholic Library World, vol 57 nº6, p264.

Overmyer, E (1995) ‘Serving the reference needs of children’ Wilson Library Bulletin, vol 69 nº10 pp38-40, 141.

Riechel, R (1991) Reference services for children and young adults Library Professional Publications, Hamden, Conn.

Walter, VA (1992) Output measures for public library service to children: a manual of standardized procedures American Library Association, Chicago and London.

Walter, VA (1994), ‘The information needs of children’, Advances in Librarianship, vol 18 pp112-115.


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This entry was posted on 6 April 2012 by in Perpustakaan.
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