Yesterday, I got a chance to meet informally with the students who will be in my 3-credit course I’m teaching here in the library at Baruch College (“Information Research for the Social Sciences and the Humanities”). When I was asking the students to tell me about kinds of research they have done that takes place outside of the classroom, a couple of the students mentioned using Yahoo! Answers to get advice about what cell phone or laptop to buy. Although they also mentioned using things like reviews on CNET, they preferred the personal commentary from question answerers to the more polished articles on tech and gadget sites.
When my class starts next Monday, I hope to probe more deeply into this issue and find out more about how they assess the credibility of those providing answers in Q&A sites. Not only will it be interesting to me as a reference librarian but also as an instructor trying to teach a semester-long course on how to find, evaluate, and use information to answer questions.
For the past day, I’ve been trying out Quora, a social Q&A service, to see what it’s like to answer questions, pose questions, and vote on other people’s answers. There are a few other librarians already there on the service. I hope to write a longer post soon on social Q&A services and how they might work for library reference services. In the meanwhile, here are some links to the world of Q&A services:
Jeff Pomerantz has launched an interesting conversation with his post, “Facebook Social Q&A Service Is the Death of Library Reference.” He argues that with Facebook now getting into the growing business of social Q&A services (such as ChaCha, Aardvark, etc.), libraries need to think seriously about whether reference is a core library service or perhaps a niche service. There are already a lot of comments on the post (including mine) and more on FriendFeed:
On a related note, check out Brian Mathews’ posts at the Ubiquitous Librarian regarding his experiences trying out some of these Q&A services: Course Hero and KGB.