Norman M. Cary, Jr.
On almost any broad topic relevant to the missions and functions performed by the members of HNSA, there is a plethora of good information on the Internet. This essay is one of a series of short articles on various topics of interest to HNSA members based on this readily available resource. In each article, I will do a short expository essay briefly describing the topic under discussion, list some relevant sites, and provide some information on what is available on each site. This will hopefully give the reader a place to begin his or her search for enlightenment on a particular topic. Given the vast amount of information available on most of these topics on the web, these essays, of necessity, provide just a sample of what is available and are not comprehensive surveys of the resources out there. If you have any favorite web sites on any of these topics that are not included in the relevant essay, I would like to know about them. Please contact me at [email protected] with the citation and a summary of the nature and value of the site and I will evaluate your input for possible inclusion in future revisions.
Whether you want to or not, your historic ship will invariably be involved in providing reference services to its clientele and the local community. Not only will you asked to provide reference services in subject areas where you may be expected to have a reasonable amount of expertise, you will also be asked questions on all sorts of military topics because you are frequently seen as "the" local authority on all things military. You have to deal with these questions in one way or another. It is an important part of your outreach and educational program. To not do so is unprofessional, and will damage your reputation and standing in the community.
It behooves every historic ship operation to handle its reference operations effectively and efficiently. Reference work is a black hole. If you let it, it will consume all of your resources, leaving nothing with which to perform your other missions. The issue is how you can best use the limited resources your have available to best accomplish your mission.
The Web helps you perform your mission better, but it gives you more to do, not less. Not only does it take time to add to and maintain the site, you may also reasonably expect that it will add to your reference burden as well. While some may hope otherwise, the Internet is not a free lunch. It is not going to reduce your reference workload; as a matter of fact, it will increase it. No matter how much information you have on your Web site, for every public reference question deflected by your Web Site, you will get more than one 'new business' inquiry. This is not to say that you should not further develop your Web Site. You are obligated to make your data accessible. The Web Site can be most useful in dealing with reference queries, particularly routine/frequently asked ones. However, it is not a panacea for all your reference problems. To keep reference workload under control, you are going to have to take additional measures.
In my opinion, each ship needs to get the information needed to answer the majority of routine queries on their web site, and to establish a pay-for-services mechanism utilizing some sort of qualified contractors to deal with most of the extensive time-consuming personal research queries. Using your professional trained manpower to provide "individualized, customized" services is not the best use of your resources, particularly when your resources are limited and these services can be provided through the private sector. TANSTAAFL ("There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch") is increasingly recognized as a valid operational principle. Organizations in both the private and public sectors routinely and increasingly charge for services that they hitherto had provided for free or which were heavily subsidized. Increasingly, people realize that the world is changing and will pay for such services, so long as it is timely and of good quality.
Don't be shy about referring queries to other organizations which are either better equipped to deal with the query and/or have more expertise on the subject matter. Neither you nor your clients are well served if you spend more time than you reasonably have available inadequately answering a question about which you have insufficient data to properly respond.
Make sure that you have well qualified people doing your reference function. This may seem obvious but, in my experience, it often doesn't happen. There are many organizations out there who consider the reference function to be low priority and, therefore, staff the function exclusively with the less experienced and knowledgeable staff. Now, granted, reference is often a good place to start the new folks on staff because it quickly gets them acquainted with the subject matter they will be dealing with in their job and what the public is interested in. However, the public expects (and you owe them) solid answers and good service. Each reference function ought to be supervised closely by someone who knows how to do the job and knows the subject matter. Otherwise, the job doesn't get done right.
In this day of ever decreasing budgets and increasing focus on providing cost effective services, there has been a lot of focus on providing good reference services efficiently. There is a lot of information out there on the Web about how to do good reference service without breaking the resource bank, as well as a lot of resources to which you can refer your customers.
http://people.lis.uiuc.edu/~b-sloan/digiref.html This is a very extensive digital reference services bibliography, by Bernie Sloan, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, done September 20, 2004. The more than 700 items listed in this bibliography relate to the topic of online or virtual or digital reference services, i.e., the provision of reference services, involving collaboration between library user and librarian, in a computer-based medium. These services can utilize various media, including e-mail, Web forms, chat, video, Web customer call center software, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), etc. Approximately 40% of the items listed in this bibliography are available via the Web. Links have been provided to direct the reader to those resources.
http://www.public.iastate.edu/~CYBERSTACKS/LiveRef.htm#Governmental For information on real-time digital reference services, as well as real-time digital reference technologies, see this article. It shows you how other organizations handle at least part of their reference burden.
http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=512&mode=2&objID=1426 Here is a good initial web page from the Pennsylvania State Archives which spells out briefly how they do business and refers you to some of their FAQ's (frequently asked questions).
http://guides.lib.virginia.edu/findfacts/ Another example of a reference page, from the University of Virginia.
http://www.history.navy.mil/ Here is the mother lode of reference resources for answering questions about US Navy history. Also has a lot of cross-references. A site you must have bookmarked for your reference function.
http://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/military/american-military-history.html From the National Archives (US), a very useful site for doing reference on military history.
http://www.military.com/Resources/ResourceSubmittedFileView?file=navy_links.htm A useful link for information on today's US Navy.
http://www.valdosta.edu/library/ Here is a useful reference site for all sorts of US military-related information.
http://www.loc.gov/rr/main/alcove9/military/usgov.html And from the Library of Congress comes this site.
http://www.boat-links.com/ All kinds of nautical information.
http://www.tntech.edu/history/336paper.html, "Selecting Sources for the Military History Class Paper". Just what you need for the student who is doing a term paper on US military history. The "General Sources" section is really, really impressive.
http://www.ala.org/ Facets of Quality for Digital Reference Services, Version 5 (June 2003). This document outlines important characteristics and features (referred to as facets of quality) for building a digital reference service for all audiences, including the K-12 educational community. The facets are intended as a set of standards for organizations to achieve in creating and maintaining digital reference services participating in the Virtual Reference Desk (VRD) Network [a collaborative Internet-based question and answer service providing support to digital reference (or AskA) services by accepting out-of-scope and overflow questions], but can be applied to all digital reference services and consortia.
http://www.ala.org/ From the American Library Association (ALA) comes this site, "Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services".
http://www.ala.org/ Another contribution from ALA, "Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers".
http://www.information-literacy.net/ An article entitled "Building and Maintaining Digital Reference Services ", by Joann M. Wasik.
http://people.lis.uiuc.edu/~b-sloan/guide.html Some suggested guidelines for electronic reference services.
http://airandspace.si.edu/research/ The National Air and Space Museum's reference services site.
http://www.wikipedia.org/ The Wikipedia entry on digital reference services.
http://www.niso.org/home/ From the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), an article entitled "Report on the NISO Workshop on Networked Digital Reference Services", held in 2001.
http://www.ifla.org/ From the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) comes "IFLA Digital Reference Guidelines". .
http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb020610-1.htm "QuestionPoint Marks New Era in Virtual Reference", by Barbara Quint. Deals with some important issues in providing reference services.
http://www.itc.nl/Pub/Home/library/Library-general-information/more-info-databases/BUBL_link_info.html BUBL LINK is a significant, professionally-maintained directory that has been around for years. Begun as a volunteer librarian effort, it was a UK funded project hosted by the University of Strathclyde Library in Glasgow, Scotland. Since this funding ended, BUBL has been maintained by staff at the Centre for Digital Library Research at the University of Strathclyde. Its many years of experience are apparent in the breadth of its listings, useful indexing, variety of access points and cogent, well-written annotations. Its main interface, BUBL LINK/5:15 offers between 5 and 15 relevant sources for most subjects.
http://www.west.asu.edu/jbuenke/librarianship/ From Arizona State University comes this article entitled "Definition of Need and Desired Service Outcomes: Digital/Online/Virtual Reference".
The above is, of course, only a small portion of the information available on reference services on the web. Most of these sites were found using the Google search engine, http://www.google.com/advanced_search , advanced search, with the exact phrase: Reference services; with all the words: non-profits. For specific history sites, use the exact phrase: navy history; with all the words: reference services.