Alum Emily Weak Researched Text Reference Services as Part of Grant-Funded Study

Alum Emily Weak gained experience in research and reference services by working on a grant-funded study about text reference services with SLIS assistant professor Dr. Lili Luo. She’s also been able to build her professional reputation by co-authoring an article with Dr. Luo, which will be published in Reference and User Services Quarterly.

Weak signed on to the project as a research assistant in Fall 2010. “I took LIBR 210 (Reference Services) and LIBR 285 (Research Methods) with Dr. Luo and I learned so much,” said Weak. “I thought she had an interesting approach of combining the practical with the academic and I really wanted to work with her.” Weak’s interest in reference services and her desire to gain practical research experience also motivated her to apply for the job.

Dr. Luo’s project, “Engaging a New Generation of Library Users: Exploring a Multi-Library Collaborative Model to Deliver Text Reference Service” is the first study to investigate how text reference differs from other kinds of virtual reference such as email and instant messaging. It also explores how the service can help libraries engage with new groups of users. The two-year project is funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services(IMLS).

Weak’s role in the project has encompassed a variety of tasks over the past two semesters. “I feel like I do a different thing practically every week, which I really like,” she said. “I’ve done literature searches, written literature reviews, helped analyze data, assisted with conducting focus groups, and built the framework for the project website.”

Weak assisted Dr. Luo with collecting and analyzing transcripts of text reference interactions from My Info Quest, the first national collaborative text reference service. Coordinated by SLIS Lecturer Lori Bell, My Info Quest pools the expertise of more than 60 libraries to provide fast reference service to users via text messaging.

As teenagers represent a major group of text-message users, Weak helped conduct focus groups at four different libraries to discover the best ways to provide teens with text reference services. She was surprised to find that many of the teens were not aware of the range of questions a reference librarian is able to answer.

“We asked them what kinds of questions they would ask a reference librarian, and inevitably it was location questions, such as ‘Where is the book I’m looking for?’” Weak explained. “I think we as library professionals have to work on getting our message across to these patrons about exactly what we do and how we can help them.”

Weak co-authored the article “Texting 4 Answers: What questions do people ask?” to share research findings with the professional community. The article is scheduled to appear in the Winter 2011 issue of Reference and User Services Quarterly.

Weak also gains practical reference experience in her work as a Library Assistant at the Naturalist Center at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. A summer 2010 internship led Weak to an entry-level position as a library interpreter, and she was promoted to her current job in September 2010. She especially enjoys supporting parents and families as they help their children discover the world of science.

After earning a BA in Drama from the University of Washington, spending a year as a circus student and performer in England, and working for ten years in the natural foods industry, “library work is a total career change for me!” said Weak, who enrolled at SJSU SLIS in Spring 2009.

Weak was inspired to earn an MLIS by President Obama’s 2008 campaign theme of community service and by her father’s advice. “When my dad retired after working for 24 years at the same company, he told me he wished he had been able to do something to really help people and make a difference,” said Weak, who graduated in Spring 2011. “I love books and information, and I love helping people. I think those are two main ingredients to being a librarian.”