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D-Lib Magazine
February 2003

Volume 9 Number 2

ISSN 1082-9873


A Special Issue on Digital Reference

I took my first course on library reference service when I was studying for my Masters in Library Science in the early 1990s. Each week, the instructor gave the class a list of questions to research, and we were told to return the next week with answers from not one, but from as many sources as we could find. It was enlightening to learn that, even for straightforward questions involving dates or names, many different answers might be found depending on the sources consulted. Which was the right answer? As the semester progressed, I grew to appreciate how important it is, when looking for information, to consult multiple authoritative sources and to make those sources known when providing information to others so they can conclude what the right answer is for their purposes.

Reference services have changed a great deal since I was in library school, but the lessons I learned in that first class are still valid. There is a great deal of information available via the Internet. However, whether information is in print or digital form, it takes expert knowledge to know where to search for accurate, authoritative information.

It is also important, especially in times of rising costs and shrinking budgets, to find ways to do more with less, and in the case of providing reference services, this means finding ways to automate whatever parts of the process can be automated without compromising the quality of those services.

At the WebWise conference last spring, I met Joanne Silverstein from the Information Institute at Syracuse, and she told me about some of the research on digital reference being conducted at Syracuse and other US universities. She also described progress already made to automate some of the tasks involved in providing digital reference. Collaborating on a special issue of D-Lib Magazine on this theme was appealing to both of us, but we agreed it would be better to time publication of the themed issue to occur after two major meetings had taken place—the Digital Reference Research Symposium in August 2002, and the 4th Annual Virtual Reference Desk (VRD) Conference in November 2002—in order to benefit from knowledge and issues arising from those events.

This issue of D-Lib Magazine on digital reference is the result of our collaboration. It was a pleasure for me to work with Joanne to produce it.

Bonita Wilson


Copyright© 2003 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/february2003-editorial