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UCLA DIS 245 “Information Access”
Winter 2012, Tuesdays, 9AM-12:20PM in YRL Conference Room

Office Hours: Thursdays in GSE&IS 204

Special Reader: Jessica Thomas, IS PhD Student





Official Catalog Course Description:

Requisites: none. Provides fundamental knowledge and skills enabling information professionals to link users with information. Overview of structure of literature in different fields; information-seeking behavior of user groups; communication with users; development of search strategies using print and electronic sources.


I.   Orientation (Tuesday, January 10th)

a)      Introduction to the Course and

b)    Space or Place: The Development of Question Answering and Negotiation

II. Reference Work (Tuesday, January 17th)

a)      “Seeing Green,” Samuel S. Green (guest speaker)

b)      Role of Various Models in Thinking about Reference Work

c)      Guide to Reference (Books) and Robert Kieft, GR Editor

d)    Reference Publishing Hegemony

III. Google Searching (Tuesday, January 24th)

a)      Rise of the Internet and World-Wide Web

b)      “Just Google It:” Answering Fact-Type (aka "Easy") Questions

c)     Role of Google Books and Google eBooks

IV. Types of Reference Formats

a)      Bibliographies and Catalogs (Tuesday, January 31tt)

b)      Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Paul Kobasa, WB editor-in-chief, (Feb 7th) 

c)      Biographical Sources, Directories, and Government information (Tuesday, February 14th)

d)      Indexes (Tuesday, February 21th)

e)      Atlases and Statistical sources, Tuesday, February 28th)

V. Information seeking ecologies (Tuesday, March 6th)

a)      Information Resources

b)      Information Seekers (aka users)

c)      Information Technology

VI. Neither Space nor Place (Tuesday, March 13th)

a)      Intellectual Traditions, notably Question Answering, Amy VanScoy, Guest Lecturer

b)    For the Future: Ubiquitous Reference Service and Customer Service Standards


"You can because you think you can," paraphrasing the Roman epic poet, Virgil (70 BC - 19 BC)


Online searching of proprietary databases, such as Thomson's Dialog, is an important component of successful searching, but requires learning about Boolean logic and proprietary search commands.  I strongly recommend that you consider taking IS 447 "Computer-based Information Resources" before you graduate. IS 240 "Principles of Information Systems Analysis & Design" can be profitably applied to reference as a process. IS 455 "Government Information" is also relevant to providing outstanding reference service.


You do not have to buy these recommended texts; however, there are no earlier editions except for Sweetland's book; if you do, consider using for better prices.  For a lesson from the so-called “good old print-based days,” see “How to Open a Book” at

Kay A. Cassell and Uma Hiremath, Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century: An Introduction (2nd ed.) New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2009. –Matches questions and sources as well as expands marketing of services in this new edition.

Marie Radford, The Reference Encounter: Interpersonal Communication in the Academic Library. ACRL Publications in Librarianship, No. 52. Chicago: American Library Association, 1999.  –One of the best published pieces of qualitative research on this subject.

John Richardson, Knowledge-based Systems for General Reference Work: Applications, Problems, and Progress. San Diego: Academic Press, 1995.  –See the links above in the syllabus; chapter 5 on the architectural logic of reference experts would be useful for section VI above.

Catherine Ross, Kirsti Nilsen, and Patricia Dewdney. Conducting the Reference Interview: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2002. –A practical approach.

Matthew Saxton and John Richardson, Understanding Reference Transactions: Transforming an Art into a Science. New York: Academic Press, 2002.  –A highly sophisticated quantitative (HLM) approach to the subject.

James H. Sweetland, Fundamental Reference Sources, 3rd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000. –A list of basic sources, but it's not clear in what sense they are fundamental (other than informed personal opinion).


Obviously, one of most interesting technological developments in reference service is the role of the Internet. To keep current, you might want to follow one or more of the following sites:

  • LIBREF-L, A Discussion of Library Reference Issues (searchable e-mail archives)
  • Livereference, a group dedicated to live reference discussion
  • PACS-L, The Public-Access Computer Systems Forum (PACS-L) is an Internet list that deals with end-user computer systems in libraries
  • QuestionPoint-L, "an e-mail list (listserv) dedicated to the discussion of the QuestionPoint service"
  • Web4Lib, Electronic Discussion: An electronic discussion for library-based World-Wide Web managers

In addition, here is another website which might save you some time searching for other studies on general reference (2002). You can search by author (biographee) or topic by keyword. This website was based on LISA and LLIS (see indexes to magazines above).

To facilitate class communication concerning assignments and grades, I do use; grades are posted there, so be sure your preferred email address is known to the Registrar.


1)    Answer a question about your reading of S. S. Green's "Personal Relations" in ALJ (10% of grade)— Due beginning of second class session--January 17th, in class

2)    Answer a series of five format related assignments which compare/contrast “free” sources found via Google with those “titles” considered canonical or authoritative sources which may only be available using an IU/PW via IP/VPN.—Due the week following each unit (50% of grade);--Due on session following discussion of formats—see above for dates).

3)    Write a brief (about 5 pages plus references) argument about the value of reference services or alternatively, a 5-minute group (no more than five students) video presentation suitable for uploading to YouTube about the reference transaction, use of an authoritative reference resource, or the value of reference services more generally (40% of grade).--Due March 13th at end of class.  


Attendance and class contributions are not formally graded; however, in borderline cases, I will consider these in determining your final grade. As you know, all grades, including the final grade, are subjective--merely the opinion of the instructor.  When you receive a paper back in your folder in the Student Commons, be sure to check or to be sure that they match. Please note that I do not maintain any list with your email address, so check that you are enrolled in this class and that UCLA has your preferred email address on file.

For all papers, the evaluation of assignments will include: 1) content foremost--including originality, description and analysis, as well as interpretation; 2) readability and appearance (e.g., conformance to a particular journal's house style); 3) accurate bibliographic style (remember to state explicitly your style such as APA, CMS, or MLA); 4) clarity of presentation; and 5) avoidance of the ten common errors. All papers are subject to a half-letter grade reduction for not heeding the above ten points.  The video will be graded according to content foremost; authority; appropriateness given the purpose; completeness; ease-of-use; illustrations; level of treatment; and uniqueness. Grades are reported to the Registrar via, so check it upon receiving a graded paper. Letter grades are assigned where a B (3.0) is good; a B+ (3.3), very good; an A- (3.7), excellent; an A (4.0) is superior; and an A+ is extraordinary. If you are a graduate student taking this class as S/U, then S = B (3.0) or higher

Again, grading is necessarily subjective; if these standards are not clear, please ask for further clarification at any time.


"Readings," so labeled above, are required; "additional readings" are optional. In addition, keep current with the professional literature by browsing the new periodicals inbox in the MIT Lab.   Backup your work regularly. During class, cell phones should be off or on vibrate.  As for late papers: all papers are due on due date.  Unexcused late papers will be substantially penalized—half letter grade per session.  Suspected research misconduct (including fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism AKA 'insufficient citation') will result in a grade of DR and be reported to the UCLA Dean of Students; you may wish to submit your papers to before handing them into me or our TA.  I have posted office hours in 204 GSE&IS; signup on my office door. No extra credit is given.  Incompletes are not awarded in this class; plan accordingly.  Disabled students must present the appropriate form from the Office of Student Disabilities at the beginning of the quarter, if they wish special accommodation. You may drop the class up until the last class, according to the UCLA Registrar. I reserve the right to change the content of this syllabus for any reason including the accommodation of guest speakers.

“You see they will choke to death and die with the secret in them rather than tell you what they want.” (Wyer, Reference Work, 1930).

: 30 January 2012; Link Checked: as modified; I practice continuous improvement of this syllabus; please check back regularly.