Author:Awodoyin, Anuoluwa Feyikemi


Reference service is a specific service tailored towards the information needs of each library user hence giving each individual library user a sense of belonging in the library. Reference service is also the various library activities specifically aimed at making information easily accessible. Reference service includes guiding users in order to know what services and resources are available and how to locate them within the library. The guidance usually comes in form of instruction, and orientation which is generally referred to as user education (Mishra and Mahapatra, 2013; Kumar and Phil, 2009). In the library, reference service is offered by a librarian at a designated desk within the library building, over the telephone or through correspondence, however this is gradually giving way to faceless correspondence. The reference librarian handles all types of queries, from directional questions to in-depth research (Dollah and Singh, 2005). Similarly, Katz (2002) cited in Yusuf (2011) further highlighted that the reference librarians role also involve teaching users how to find information either within the library or outside of the library.

The attainment of quality in products and services (reference service) has become a pivotal concern such that while quality in tangible goods has been described and measured by marketers, quality in services is largely undefined and un-researched (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry, 1985). Measuring the quality of goods is not as difficult as measuring the quality of a service. Goods are quantifiable but services are not quantifiable. Quality therefore, as an intangible construct, is measured by perception of the service either from the user's point of view or the provider's point of view.

Service quality is thus a business concept used by consumers to adjudge a product/service as either good or bad because it has met the need or exceeded the needs of the user. In the world of business, organisations have realised that in order to survive and flourish in a highly competitive and ever changing market, they need to exist for the customers and serve them appropriately so as to continually make profit and remain in business. By extension libraries exist and serve its users appropriately by meeting their information needs. The quality of the services provided can be adjudged appropriate or inappropriate by users when it meets, exceeds or does not meet their information quest. Bicknell-Holmes (1994) however reiterated that instead of libraries acquiring what users would like or want, we (librarians) have forced our collection on the users thus leaving our users dissatisfied with our services in the long run.

Evaluation of library reference services began in earnest in the late 1960s and early 1970s when budgetary situations required justification of the existence of all services in the library (Rehman, Shafique & Mahmood, 2011). The concept of service quality in the context of a library is also the users' expectation and perception of service performance and the reality of the service being provided (Sohail & Raza, 2012). In addition, understanding customer expectation is a prerequisite for delivering superior service (Coleman, Xiao, Bair & Chollett, 1997). Hernon and Nitecki (2001) opined that service quality definitions vary across the literature and are based on four underlying perspectives. a) Excellence, which is often externally defined. b). Value, which incorporates multiple attributes and is focused on benefit to the recipient. c) Conformance to specifications, which enables precise measurement, but customers may not know or care about internal specifications, and d) Meeting or exceeding expectations, this is all-encompassing and applies to all service industries.

In measuring service quality, various models have been developed and adopted such as SERVQUAL (Service Quality) or Gaps model, LIBQUAL (Library Quality). The SERVQUAL was developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (1985). SERvQuAL or the gaps model defines service quality as a function of the gap between customers' expectations of a service and their perceptions of the performance of actual service delivery by an organisation.

LibQUAL (Library Quality Scale) is used to solicit, track, understand, and act upon users' opinions of service quality. Miller (2008) also posited that LibQUAL focuses on measuring three dimensions in the library and they are service effect (librarian's competency and helpfulness), information control (library's collection adequacy for self- reliance service), and library as a place (ambiance of the library for academic activities). Service quality has helped to improve the reference service by establishing a closer and better relationship between the reference librarian and the user.

The importance of service quality in the library as a whole is that it serves as a planning tool and as a means of evaluating precise statements on which the library seeks customer inputs. It enables the library to develop a partnership with its customers to gain competitive edge, and services provided are better improved upon as a result of users' comments/opinions on the library services (Hernon and Nitecki, 2001) and by extension on the reference service.

By implication quality reference service can be defined as user satisfaction with reference service, which is driven by library staff behaviour, communication skills, user friendly environment, and suitable levels of staff morale and workload (Bicknell, 1994; Richardson, 2002; Suzinor and Kiran, 2009). The services being provided by reference librarian can be said to be of quality when users' information needs are met, users are satisfied with their information needs, and when reference librarians have the requisite skills and competence. This also includes ability to communicate to users and the convenience of the physical facilities of the reference environment. In addition, the measure of the quality of a service is also tied to the mission and objectives of the organization (Suzinor and Kiran, 2009).

Quality reference service is measured based on users' satisfaction with the services provided, availability of reference tools relevant in the user's field of interest, availability of both traditional and electronic services tailored to capture and meet user's need, library environment and by extension reference environment. Others are reference queries answered, reference query response time, assistance from the librarian, communication skills of the user and the reference librarian.

In Nigeria there are six geo-political zones i.e South-West, South-South, South- East North-Central, North-East. For this study, the South-West geo-political zone was selected for this study because it has the highest number of universities in Nigeria as at the time of this study. This study therefore focused on fifteen (15) out of the thirty-eight (38) universities in South-west (Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti and Lagos respectively) Nigeria that had functional reference section and reference librarian.


The essence of having voluminous collection whether print or electronic in university libraries and by extension reference section is so as to equip users with adequate resources to complement what is being taught in the classroom. However, observation and literature revealed that the availability of information communication and technology (ICT) tools, search engines, smart phones, electronic books and social collaborative tools has made users demand for easy and efficient ways of access for scholarly publications as against the traditional subscription.

This may not be unconnected to the need for independence by users, reference service not reflective of emerging technologies, librarians behind the reference desk...

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