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Digital libraries and reference services: present and future

Chowdhury, G. (2002) Digital libraries and reference services: present and future. Journal of Documentation, 58 (3). pp. 258-283. ISSN 0022-0418

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Reference services have taken a central place in library and information services. They are also regarded as personalised services since in most cases a personal discussion takes place between a user and a reference librarian. Based on this, the librarian points to the sources that are considered to be most appropriate to meet the specific information need(s) of the user. Since the Web and digital libraries are meant for providing direct access to information sources and services without the intervention of human intermediaries, the pertinent question that appears is whether we need reference services in digital libraries, and, if so, how best to offer such services. Current digital libraries focus more on access to, and retrieval of, digital information, and hardly lay emphasis on the service aspects. This may have been caused by the narrower definitions of digital libraries formulated by digital library researchers. This paper looks at the current state of research in personalised information services in digital libraries. It first analyses some representative definitions of digital libraries in order to establish the need for personalised services. It then provides a brief overview of the various online reference and information services currently available on the Web. The paper also briefly reviews digital library research that specifically focuses on the personalisation of digital libraries and the provision of digital reference and information services. Finally, the paper proposes some new areas of research that may be undertaken to improve the provision of personalised information services in digital libraries.