INFO 210-01 and 210-12
Reference and Information Services
Fall 2018 Syllabus

Maria Otero-Boisvert, MLS, PhD

Cell: (630) 865-5195
Office Hours: Office hours by appointment via Zoom. Also available for consultations via email.

Syllabus Links
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Canvas Information: Courses will be available beginning August 21st, 6 am PT unless you are taking an intensive or a one-unit or two-unit class that starts on a different day. In that case, the class will open on the first day that the class meets.

You will be enrolled in the Canvas site automatically.

Course Description

This course is an examination of current trends in the design and delivery of reference and information services. It also offers a process-oriented examination of how information professionals answer reference questions. The interpersonal skills required for effective question negotiation and the sources with which questions are answered are stressed.

Detailed Description

This course is designed to introduce you to the world of reference and information services. We will explore the history and core values of reference; identify the various methods and models of information service delivery; examine and evaluate key information sources of various types and formats; and discuss current issues and emerging trends in reference and information delivery. Topics will include:

  • The history of reference service
  • Information seeking behavior
  • The reference interview
  • Evaluation of reference interactions
  • Information sources and their use
  • Collection and evaluation of reference sources
  • The role of instruction in reference service
  • Reference ethics and reference policies
  • Trends in reference and information services

Course Requirements

Mode of Instruction
This course will be entirely asynchronous. We will use Canvas for online discussions, for the submission of assignments, and for accessing readings and course materials. The instructor is available online either through Canvas or direct email. This is the quickest way to get a response. If I see particular questions or concerns brought up by more than one student, I will post the question and my response to our Canvas site. Students are encouraged to interact with each other via the course "Water-cooler Space" discussion board. This is a useful forum for sharing information and setting up study groups.


  • Online Discussions (weekly)
    • 20% of total grade
    • Since this class is entirely asynchronous, the online discussions are an integral part of the learning experience. It is the primary way in which we will interact as a class and learn from each other. It is also how students will demonstrate their mastery of the course content. Students will write an essay based on their readings for each module of the course and respond to each other's postings. Participation is mandatory. Please see the online discussion expectations sheet in Canvas for detailed information.

      Supports CLO 5 and CLO 8
  • Interview with a Manager of Public Services Department (Individual)

    • 15% of total grade
    • Reference and Information Services is a field that is constantly evolving. How these services are provided vary greatly from one library type to another. It is important, as a student, to understand how information professionals today define, plan for and provide their services. How do they know what their community needs? How do they evaluate the current services and programs? What kind of a public service team do they build? What kinds of platforms are being used for these services?
    • Identify a library or information center to which you can gain access. Ask to be introduced to the person charged with managing public services (these titles may vary). Request their permission for a formal interview (approx.1 hour in length). Create a list of interesting questions for your subject. Carry-out the interview.
    • Write up a summary of and reflection on the interview. Bolster your observations with your readings in the course textbook or supplementary articles.
    • Supports CLO 4, CLO 5, and CLO 6.

  • Reference Observation exercise and reflection (Individual).
    • 20% of total grade
    • Experience reference interaction in a real-world setting. In today's information environment, reference service can take many shapes. It can be a shift at a traditional reference desk. It can be the design and implementation of an information literacy class or a community-oriented library program. Employing ethnographic techniques of participant observation, shadow a reference librarian for one "shift" and observe their interactions with customers. This may be an observation of a reference desk shift or it may be an observation of an instruction session or program. Keep a field journal of the observations and then write an analysis of what you observed. Describe how the service is planned, structured and delivered. In what format did the interactions take place? What was the customer's experience from the beginning of the process to the end result?
      • A. Identify a library to which you can gain access for the exercise. It can be any type of library. Request permission to shadow a reference or public service librarian for a "shift" at the reference desk. After the observation period, interview the librarian about that day's interactions. If possible, interview a customer about their level of satisfaction with the interview.
      • B. Submit the field notes for the observation period along with your analysis and reflections on the experience.
      Supports CLO 2, CLO 3, and CLO 6
  • Working with Reference Sources: Answering Questions and Evaluating Sources (Individual and Group).
    • 25% of total grade.
    • The universe of available information is massive and constantly shifting. The platforms in which it is found run the spectrum from print to digital, from proprietary to public. It is unrealistic to expect to know every resource available. The important thing is to know and understand the different types of resources, how to find them, assess and use them. You will complete exercises designed to give you practical experience examining, evaluating and using some of the reference sources and search techniques we are studying.
    • This assignment has been designed as a self-paced learning packet which will be completed by the students over several weeks. Students will complete the reference practice question exercise individually and then review each other’s work in small groups. Grading will be individual only.
      • A learning packet will be posted on Canvas. It will include an introduction to the assignment, a list of reference questions, a worksheet template, and a peer grading rubric. Individual students will choose twelve questions to which they will locate answers in three different types of sources. Those sources will then be evaluated and compared.
      • Students will meet in small self-directed groups in order to review and compare their work. Members of the group will provide peer evaluations of each other.
      • Individual students will submit an analysis and reflection of the exercise based on their results, the relevant professional literature, and any relevant standards.
      • Further details of the assignment will be posted to Canvas.  N.B. You will need to have access to a print reference collection (a large public or an academic library) in order to complete these exercises, Online sources may be used, but they will not be sufficient for all questions.
    • Supports CLO 1 and CLO 2
  • Research Guide (Individual).
    • 20% of total grade.
    • Being an excellent reference librarian requires one to understand (and sometimes anticipate) your customers' needs and help them locate appropriate resources. You also have to know the best way in which to present the information to meet their needs. In order to hone these skills, you will create a research guide designed to assist a user (or community of users) with a particular information need.
      • A. Identify a topic of interest on which you would like to build a research or library guide. Carry out the process of identifying appropriate resources, analyzing them and describing them for the user/s in a cohesive manner. Create a guide in whichever format you feel would be most appropriate for your specific setting (i.e., print, web page, podcast, blog post, video, etc.).
      • B. Submit an accompanying document in which you will discuss the research challenges with this particular topic, explain your selection criteria, and annotate the sources. Include, as well, a discussion of those resources you chose not to include and why they didn't make the cut. Describe the process of creating the guide and your reasons for choosing one format over another.
      Further details will be posted to Canvas along with a grading rubric.

      Supports CLO 4 and CLO 7
  • Alternate Final Assignment (Individual)
    • 20% of total grade
    • Each semester the instructor seeks to offer students an interesting alternative to the LibGuide final assignment. Details will change from year to year. More information will be provided in the final course syllabus for each semester.
    • These alternate assignments are chosen voluntarily by the students and will take the place of the LibGuide final assignment. 

Course Calendar




(to be explored at your own pace)

Readings and Assignments

Week 1


(This class will run on a Wednesday to Wednesday schedule. Each new weekly module will open on a Wednesday)

Course begins

Introductions on Canvas


Read: article TBA

Discussion 1 --  Post introductions of yourself to this week's discussion forum. Tell us what type of library/information work you might be interested in doing. Respond to classmates' posts.

Test technology to be sure everything is working properly.

Luo, "Stories of Reference Librarians"

Week 2


History and Functions of Reference Services; Major Terms


Read: Chapter 1 in course textbook.

Supplementary Readings.

Luo, "Stories of Reference Librarians"

Discussion 2

Working with Reference Sources Packet released 

Week 3


Reference Interview

Bibliographic Sources (S&W, chap. 16)

Read: Chapter 3 in course textbook.

Supplementary Readings.

Discussion 3

Week 4


Ethics & Policies


Read: Chapter 2 in course textbook

Supplementary Readings

Discussion 4

Week 5



Indexes and Abstracts

Sources for Facts and Overviews (S&W, chapt. 17, 18)

Read: Chapter 4 in course textbook

Supplementary Reading

No Discussion

Assignment Due: Interview with a Reference Manager

Week 6


Cooperation & Consortia  

Read: Chapter 5 in course textbook

Supplementary Reading

Discussion 5

Week 7


Models of Reference Services

Dictionaries, Geographical, Biographical and Genealogical Sources (S&W, chapt. 19, 20, 21)

Read: Chapter 6  in course textbook.

Supplementary Readings

Discussion 6

Week 8


Services for Children, YA and Diverse Populations


Read: Chapters 11 & 12 in course textbook

Supplementary Readings

Discussion 7

Assignment Due: Reference Observation

Week 9


Management of Reference

Evaluation & Assessment

Government Information, Data, and Statistics (S&W Chap. 22, 23)


Read: Chapters 7 & 8 in course textbook.

Supplementary Readings

Discussion 8

Week 10


Reading Week / Study Break


Week 11


Selection & Evaluation of Reference Resources

Business, Health & Medicine, Legal Sources (S&W Chapt. 25, 26, 28)


Read:  Chapter 13 in course textbook.

Supplementary Readings

Discussion 9


Week 12


Licensing Electronic Sources

Search Strategies

Readers’ Advisory

Primary and Archival Sources

(S&W Chapt. 24, 27)

Read: Chapters 14 & 15 in course textbook

Supplementary Readings

No Discussion

Assignment Due: Working with Reference Sources

Week 13


Training and Continual Learning


Read: Chapter 9 in course textbook.

Supplementary Readings

No Discussion


Week 14


Marketing and Promotion of Reference Service


Read: Chapter 10 in course textbook

Supplementary Readings

Discussion 10

Week 15


Future Trends and Course Wrap-up


 Read: Chapter 29 in course textbook

Supplementary Readings

No Discussion

Week 16


Semester ends


No Discussion

Assignment Due: Research Guide, 12/5/2018

Student Responsibilities

  • As a student, you are expected to read and carefully consider all of the readings, participate fully in all activities and discussions during the class duration, as well as turning in assignments by the designated time.
  • Due dates are non-negotiable. If the instructor needs to change a due date, you will be notified as soon as possible. Since due dates are non-negotiable, procrastination should be avoided. Plan ahead.
  • If you do not understand the assignments, etc., it is your responsibility to inform the instructor. If you are having difficulty, [please contact the instructor early so that we can resolve the problems before your final grade is set. You must complete all assignments to pass the course.

Late Assignments
The instructor has the right to not accept late assignments or to add significant grade penalties. If you foresee any difficulty in completing your assignment on time, you need to contact the instructor at least 48 hours before the due date to request an extension. Only one extension per student per semester will be considered. If granted an extension, your assignment grade will be reduced by 10%.

Course Workload Expectations

Success in this course is based on the expectation that students will spend, for each unit of credit, a minimum of forty-five hours over the length of the course (normally 3 hours per unit per week with 1 of the hours used for lecture) for instruction or preparation/studying or course related activities including but not limited to internships, labs, clinical practica. Other course structures will have equivalent workload expectations as described in the syllabus.

Instructional time may include but is not limited to:
Working on posted modules or lessons prepared by the instructor; discussion forum interactions with the instructor and/or other students; making presentations and getting feedback from the instructor; attending office hours or other synchronous sessions with the instructor.

Student time outside of class:
In any seven-day period, a student is expected to be academically engaged through submitting an academic assignment; taking an exam or an interactive tutorial, or computer-assisted instruction; building websites, blogs, databases, social media presentations; attending a study group;contributing to an academic online discussion; writing papers; reading articles; conducting research; engaging in small group work.

Course Prerequisites

INFO 210 has no prequisite requirements.

Course Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify and assess the characteristics and functions of various types of reference sources.
  2. Use basic reference tools and searching techniques to answer a wide range of questions.
  3. Conduct effective reference interviews.
  4. Describe the relationships between user needs, information resources, and relevant information technologies.
  5. Describe current issues and trends in reference services, including the impact of technology on user needs and reference interactions.
  6. Evaluate reference services that address the needs of a diverse and changing society.
  7. Understand the relationship between reference service and information literacy instruction.
  8. Begin to develop a personal philosophy of reference service.

Core Competencies (Program Learning Outcomes)

INFO 210 supports the following core competencies:

  1. F Use the basic concepts and principles related to the selection, evaluation, organization, and preservation of physical and digital information items.
  2. I Use service concepts, principles, and techniques to connect individuals or groups with accurate, relevant, and appropriate information.
  3. N Evaluate programs and services using measurable criteria.


Required Textbooks:

  • Smith, L., & Wong, M. (2016). Reference and information services: An introduction (5th ed.). Libraries Unlimited. Available through Amazon: 1440836965arrow gif indicating link outside sjsu domain

Recommended Textbooks:

  • Cassell, K. A., & Hiremath, U. (2013). Reference and information services: An introduction (3rd ed.). Neal-Schuman. Available through Amazon: 1555708595arrow gif indicating link outside sjsu domain

Grading Scale

The standard SJSU School of Information Grading Scale is utilized for all iSchool courses:

97 to 100 A
94 to 96 A minus
91 to 93 B plus
88 to 90 B
85 to 87 B minus
82 to 84 C plus
79 to 81 C
76 to 78 C minus
73 to 75 D plus
70 to 72 D
67 to 69 D minus
Below 67 F


In order to provide consistent guidelines for assessment for graduate level work in the School, these terms are applied to letter grades:

  • C represents Adequate work; a grade of "C" counts for credit for the course;
  • B represents Good work; a grade of "B" clearly meets the standards for graduate level work or undergraduate (for BS-ISDA);
    For core courses in the MLIS program (not MARA, Informatics, BS-ISDA) — INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204 — the iSchool requires that students earn a B in the course. If the grade is less than B (B- or lower) after the first attempt you will be placed on administrative probation. You must repeat the class if you wish to stay in the program. If - on the second attempt - you do not pass the class with a grade of B or better (not B- but B) you will be disqualified.
  • A represents Exceptional work; a grade of "A" will be assigned for outstanding work only.

Graduate Students are advised that it is their responsibility to maintain a 3.0 Grade Point Average (GPA). Undergraduates must maintain a 2.0 Grade Point Average (GPA).

University Policies

Per University Policy S16-9, university-wide policy information relevant to all courses, such as academic integrity, accommodations, etc. will be available on Office of Graduate and Undergraduate Programs' Syllabus Information web page at: Make sure to visit this page, review and be familiar with these university policies and resources.

In order to request an accommodation in a class please contact the Accessible Education Center and register via the MyAEC portal.

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