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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Barbara B. Adams, MLS (Duquesne University)
Description: Eleven essays discuss email (asynchronous) as well as real-time (synchronous) digital reference, and compare and contrast digital reference (aka virtual, online, electronic, AskA, 24/7 or chat reference) with traditional reference service (primarily in person or telephone).
Purpose: In a collection of such broad scope and diversity, many will find something of interest, fulfilling the editor's modest stated objective of offering ideas of potential help to librarians in their own libraries. The book as a whole can assist critical thinking about the purposes, means, and human impacts of digital reference.
Audience: The book's primary audience consists of librarians in any library or library system in which digital reference is under consideration or already in use. Students of librarianship could also benefit from its perspectives. The editor, a librarian with an alternative, highly visible Web presence at librarian.net, is an activist willing to ask questions of the profession. In this book, she has gathered essays from practicing librarians in a variety of libraries and reference environments in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, including consortia and other collaborative reference services.
Features: Each essay contributes to one of three thematic sections: reference old and new; how-we-do-it; and philosophical questions. In the specific reference situations described, one can find the unusual, such as the use of multilingual chat with Chinese characters at a suburban American library. However, the book's real uniqueness is the reflective approach taken throughout. It concludes with a pair of especially strong essays drawing attention to the social contexts of digital reference, and the need for special considerations in the conduct of research on digital reference behavior.
Assessment: This book does not emphasize statistics, procedures or implementation details, now available in numerous sources. It is instead a provocative exploration of some important questions about digital reference service and the lives of its users and librarians.