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Digital Reference
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Automation and Reference

As more users begin accessing library services remotely via the Internet, it's worth surveying some of the automated systems now being tested that can provide reference assistance online.

Question Master
Created by John V. Richardson Jr., this research project of OCLC was designed to aid librarians in the selection of appropriate print reference materials. It works by taking the user through a series of questions to winnow down the set of relevant resources to the one most likely to help. As of June 2000, the only module that is currently working is the biographical one, which allows you to enter a query, respond to a series of qualifying questions (e.g., is the person living or deceased), and ultimately be presented with a reference book that is likely to have the information you need.

Further Reading

Richardson Jr., J.R. (January 1998). Question Master: An evaluation of a Web-based decision-support system for use in reference environments. College & Research Libraries, 59(1): 29-37.

Database Advisor
This tool helps users at the University of California, San Diego, to select an appropriate science database. Once you input your terms, the system runs searches in more than 25 databases and presents you with the number of hits found in each database.

Pirate Source
This interesting and helpful tool at the Joyner Library at East Carolina University helps students select an appropriate resource for beginning research in dozens of different subject areas. Pirate Source asks you to first select a topic, then a source type you want to find (all, biographical info, dictionaries, encyclopedias, articles, government info, handbooks and guides, news and info, statistics, and/or web sites). If desired, you can further restrict your search for resources to those that are web-based or to those in the library itself.

E-mail your comments or suggestions to Stephen Francoeur

Last updated: December 28, 2001