Hybrid reference endangered

Hybrid reference was what we had in terms of a reference collection when new databases and other online resources started coming in and replacing traditional reference books.  At that stage it was hybrid, because there was still much that was better and more easily satisfied with a reference book, rather than an online resource. That was when I was last working full-time in an Information Services role in a public library, over thirteen years ago.

How things have changed.

I am working my way through our branch reference collections and the best use many of the titles in our reference collections have been getting, is as a dust collector.  Not meaning to sound harsh, but the Internet really has broken through the barrier and the whole hybrid collection is quickly making way for a totally online collection – whether its a library purchased resource or the endless free resources available.

That’s not to say we are there yet.  We still have reference collections in all our branches, even if they only comprise a few titles, as it does on our mobile library.  There are some resources around still, that are quicker and easier in a print format, or that are presented better and in a much more user-friendly form.  Our larger branches still comprise much bigger reference collections, but their size have greatly reduced over the five years as both our staff and users moved online.   

The collections have also changed, to be a resource of tools that have ready reference content or school assignment support, or unique content, such as our local histories.

Our staff have changed too, so that they too go online looking for an answer. This can be problematic, as we could have a better and quicker answer available in our print reference collections. Awareness of what we still have has been a problem, but its amazing how much more you notice, when you remove the ‘dust’. I know I have discovered reference tools I didn’t know we had, once it was easier to see what was still on shelf.

Surprisingly, some of our users are the biggest advocates of retaining elements of the print collection. Most branches have a tale of a user or two who regularly come in to use a particular reference book.  They are not many, but they are dedicated.

So, hybrid reference is endangered, with the pendulum definitely moving to the online. But even as libraries have survived, despite the introduction of first the Internet and then e-books, I think print reference collection will also stay for now. I just think it has moved to play a supporting role to the online.  And as a reference librarian, I am happy about that.

Do you still have print reference collections in your libraries? Is there still a role for print reference?