Reference service: A big help or hand-holding?

At my college library, we have a particular instructor who uses our reference services quite often to find answers to business related questions. Some verge on complex, industry specific research and so we’ve taken a stand to indicate that these types of questions cannot be answered by our service. Now students (presumably in this instructor’s class) are also heavily using our service to ask very specific, detailed business questions.

How much help should reference services provide?

Do we answer each question posed by a faculty member in order to maintain good relations? Or do we assume that someone with business related education should be able to conduct their own academic research?

Do we point students to Statistics Canada to find the answer themselves? Or do we point them to specific tables or even list the answer for them?

I’ve personally spent up to an hour researching specific statistical data for students, email them step-by-step instructions, and never hear so much as a ‘thank you’. Am I wrong to want to feel some sense of satisfaction that my effort has yielded useful information for this student?

While the staff feel that we are answering the same types of questions over and over again and that the class would surely benefit from some guided instruction on statistical information (mainly what kinds of statistics are even available), it is a tricky area to navigate for the first time.

We do have pathfinders and are working on creating online tutorials, but I really don’t feel this will help. My experience is that students are coming to the library BEFORE they have tried any research on their own. In several instances, I’ve simply used Google to find their answer, and I feel that this is the least we should expect from our students. They are not even taking this step before seeking help. To me this isn’t research guidance or assistance to finesse search results, but the library getting stuck with the grunt work.


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