School of Library and Information Studies

LIS 503: Reference and Information Services

Course Outline
Fall 2016 

Instructor: Dr. Angela Pollak
Office: 1-17C Rutherford South
Office Hours: Drop in through the week (or remotely by appointment during asynchronous weeks)
Class times: Tuesdays: 9:00 a.m.–11:50 a.m. in 3-01 Rutherford South

Calendar Description:

Quests for knowledge have driven individuals and society–in all cultures and in all time periods–to preserve, seek, use and share information across a spectrum of work, leisure, and everyday life contexts. LIS 503 introduces students to the contemporary theory and practice of providing information services to a diverse group of stakeholders in a diversity of situations. We explore the terrain of basic print, digital and human information sources at our disposal today, including an introduction to the principles and technologies that support searching and retrieval. Positioned within theory, we test best practices and techniques to communicate and satisfy requests for information. Finally, we examine how information professionals in both traditional and non–traditional career paths successfully mediate access to information in innovative ways.


  1. To develop a basic understanding of the rationale for various types of reference and information services and resources in libraries.
  2. To introduce students to the basic theories of information behaviour.
  3. To develop the ability to interview users in order to analyze the information needs of various users.
  4. To introduce the variety of information sources available that can be used to meet users’ information needs.
  5. To introduce the basic techniques of online searching.

Measurable Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs): 
The measurable student learning objectives for this class are:

  • Drawing on information behaviour theory, students will be able to provide consultation, mediation and guidance to a range of individuals and communities in locating and using information.
  • Through in-class discussion and exercises as well as assignments, students will be able to evaluate and synthesize both online and print resources to provide relevant information in response to diverse user needs, communities and preferences.
  • Following an examination of search strategies, students will be able to conduct comprehensive information searches using a wide variety of systems and techniques.

Evaluating information sources, conducting the reference interview, information searching, reference modalities, services to diverse populations, readers’ advisory, information literacy, managing and assessing reference services. 

Instruction in this session of LIS 503 follows a blended, flipped classroom model.

Blended: Most classes will be delivered in person.  However, three classes will be conducted asynchronously online (weeks 3, 6, and 10). Asynchronous sessions can be completed independently at any time during the scheduled week.

Flipped classroom: In a flipped classroom, the preparatory work is self–directed, and in-class work is collaborative. Reading, reflecting and exploring happens at home, while class time is reserved for hands–on activities, workshops, questions, and interactive discussions. You benefit from the opportunity to direct the passive learning at your own pace, while active learning and discovery happens in the classroom with the instructor and your peers as your guide.

Course Relationships:
There are no prerequisites or co-requisites for this course. 

Assignments & Evaluation:



Readings (theoretical, practice)

Group activities and discussions

Selected podcasts/videos/presentations

Peer to peer teaching


Some lecturing

Guest speakers


Each week you have a menu of reading and viewing selections to choose from. The readings cover a variety of genres (academic or professional texts, websites and videos), and range in length from a couple of pages to two dozen pages or more. You do not have to read them all! The purpose of the variety of readings is to give each of you something different to bring to class to add to the discussion, not to have everybody all simultaneously read the same thing. Feel free to tailor your readings to your own interests and available time. I recommend that you browse through all the options, and choose at least one easy read and one more difficult read to examine in more detail. If you can’t decide which items to read, choose the ones that are bolded. If you are not interested in my suggestions, look for better readings and share your findings with us.

Readings are drawn from recent monographs and periodicals in the field and are available electronically through University of Alberta Libraries (, in print in Henderson Hall or for download through e-class. You are not required to purchase any books or subscriptions for this course. If you run into a pay wall, ask for help before you part with any cash!

Although there is no required textbook, students may find the following two general sources on reference and information services helpful. Both are available through the library.

  • Bopp, Richard E., and Linda C. Smith. 2011. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. 4th ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Cassell, Kay Ann, and Uma Hiremath. 2013. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. 3rd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman.

There is a degree of flexibility built into this section of the LIS 503 curriculum to allow you to tailor your learning to your own interests and strengths. However, if this syllabus does not address one or more of your personal goals for the course, please contact me to discuss options. I am happy to consider alternative ways of making the content and/or evaluation more personally meaningful to you.

Professional, grammatically correct writing is expected. This means that spelling, punctuation, and grammar count. If this is a challenge for you, find someone whose writing skills you trust to proofread your written work, or visit the Centre for Writers ( for assistance. Grades for work submitted with sloppy spelling/proofreading errors will not exceed 78%.

Academic Integrity:
The University of Alberta is committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and honesty. Students are expected to be familiar with these standards regarding academic honesty and to uphold the policies of the University in this respect.  Students are particularly urged to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Code of Student Behaviour ( and avoid any behaviour which could potentially result in suspicions of cheating, plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts and/or participation in an offence.  Academic dishonesty is a serious offence and can result in suspension or expulsion from the University.

Students should also be mindful of the SLIS Copyright Policy (

  • Plagiarism: I expect that you will produce your own original work for this course. Whenever you take an idea or a passage from another author, you must acknowledge your debt both by using quotation marks where appropriate and by proper citation referencing. Plagiarism is a major academic offence.

  • Assignment recycling: Learning depends on our ability to build on our own previous work and the work of others, and also to build toward bigger and better ideas in the future. I encourage this type of exploration in 503. However, recycling and duplicating assignments from other courses verbatim is considered an academic offense and is subject to academic penalty. If you want to re-use material you have created in other courses for assignments in this course, come see me to discuss ways to do so constructively.

  • Teamwork and Collaboration: You will find that the exercise of asking and answering questions among each other builds your knowledge in ways that are not achievable in the classroom alone. I encourage you to explore ways to collaborate with your peers in all facets of this course. You are, however, expected to do all of your own work on assignments unless otherwise indicated in the assignment outline. If you need assistance with an assignment, focus on asking questions that build your skill (eg. “How do I”, “Where do I”. “I’m having trouble with…” etc.) rather than asking for direct answers. You are always welcome to bring your questions to me as well.

Inclusive Language and Equity:
The Faculty of Education is committed to providing an environment of equality and respect for all people within the university community, and to educating faculty, staff and students in developing teaching and learning contexts that are welcoming to all. The Faculty recommends that students and staff use inclusive language to create a classroom atmosphere in which students’ experiences and views are treated with equal respect and value in relation to their gender, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic backgrounds.  Students who require accommodations in this course due to a disability affecting mobility, vision, hearing, learning, or mental or physical health are advised to discuss their needs with Student Accessibility Services. You are also most welcome to speak directly with me if you choose.

Recording Lectures:
Audio or video recording, digital or otherwise, of lectures, labs, seminars or any other teaching environment by students is allowed only with the prior written consent of the professor or as part of an approved accommodation plan.

Grades are calculated in accordance with the SLIS Grading Procedure (

Grades reflect professional judgements of student achievement made by instructors. These judgements are based on a combination of absolute achievement and relative performance in class. The instructor should mark in terms of raw scores, rank the assignments in order of merit, and with due attention to the verbal descriptions of the various grades, assign an appropriate final letter grade.

Though the average class grade for assignments is 78% we use the entire range of grades in this course. If you are hoping for a grade higher than 78%, be prepared to deliver more than the minimum described in assignments. This does not mean more content (i.e. higher page count), but rather better quality content in terms of analysis, integration of readings, writing quality, presentation etc. Late assignments will be subject to a penalty of 5% per day (including weekends).

Health and Wellness:
As part of a successful graduate student experience at SLIS, I encourage students to make their health and wellness a priority. The University of Alberta provides several on campus health and wellness-related services to help you achieve optimum health and engage in healthy living while pursuing your graduate degree, including physical recreation opportunities and leisure programming. If you are in distress, or are concerned about someone who may be, refer to for a list of options about how to obtain help. SLIS students seeking help regarding mental health are advised to speak to their advisor or someone they feel comfortable confiding in. If I can be of assistance, please contact me.

Diversity and Student Development: I encourage students to explore the wealth of resources available at the Student Success Centre (, Student Accessibility Services ( and the Aboriginal Student Services Centre ( designed to help you achieve your academic and personal goals. These departments offer skills support, as well as services for a variety of special interest groups including international and indigenous students, and individuals with learning exceptionalities. Please come see me if you’d like to discuss options for making this class content more accessible.

Retention of material: I collect samples of excellent coursework to use as examples for future classes. Samples will be selected from A–level work (80% or better), and be completely anonymized (where possible, credited where not) before being shared with other students. If you do not want your work included in the sample, please send me a note.

To complete this course you must do the following required assignments:






Come see me for a quick visit

5 minutes

Before Sept. 13



Resource Evaluation & Review

3-6 pages

Week 4



Resource Presentation

5 minutes online

Weeks 6, 10


3 & 4

Literature Search Draft, and Final

8-10 pages

Week 7, 12



Reference Question

6-7 pages

Week 9







Submitting Assignments:
Assignments generally give a page range for appropriate size/length. A page is defined as 250 words. In all cases, it is entirely achievable to receive an A level grade for assignments that come in at the minimum page range stipulated. Assessment is based on quality, not quantity!

Assignments should be submitted to e-class by midnight on Tuesday of the week they are due, with the exception of the final literature search, which is due December 2 at midnight. All assignments should be in MS Word, PDF, or OpenOffice format and include a list of references (in addition to the specified length requirements). Please include your name and the assignment name in an easy to find location. Any files submitted should start with your surname, and include the assignment name, for example, “Pollak_Resource Eval.pdf”.

Formatting/Citation Style:
Although professional librarians are required to communicate in writing all the time, you will seldom use a typical ‘essay’ type document to get the job done. To encourage you to consider many different writing and communication tools in practice, use your skill and talent to present the information requested in the most efficient, memorable or impactful way possible. For example, you may use headings, tables, narrative, templates, images or other tools, single or double spacing. If you choose a traditional text-heavy format, I recommend using a 10-12 point font, with a 1–inch margin all around just because that makes it easier to read. You can use whichever citation style you prefer, but please do not use footnotes or endnotes. Citation style guides are available from the University of Alberta Libraries. (All of your submissions should include a citation list).


1. Resource Evaluation and Review: Week 4, 20% (3-6 pages)
The Resource Evaluation and Review offers you a chance to explore one particular resource category in more detail. You will gain experience finding and evaluating the resource, and then provide a professional review of it.

Scope of Assignment:

  • From the table of options, choose one resource category to explore.
  • Produce a subject guide summarizing your findings. (This item will be shared.)
  • Produce a professional review of the resource. (This item will not be shared.) 


  • See rubric for grading details.
  • Each student must prepare their own individual report and review.

Subject Guide Instructions: (2-4 pages, 10%)

You may be as formal or informal as you choose, provided that it is professional, easy to scan for details, and that you include, at a minimum, the content described below. Your audience for the subject guide is your future-librarian peers. I will compile all of the subject guides into a pdf document to distribute to the class, ideally the first week of presentations. Be sure to look up what a subject guide is before you begin!


  1. Define and describe the category of resource (purpose, characteristics, features, usefulness etc.).
  2. Identify the resource category as print, electronic, human (choose multiple if appropriate).

  3. Describe how the category is organized and offer several examples. Choose one example and comment in more detail on the quality and reliability of content, scope of resource, currency/update intervals, organization of material/site, special or unique features, availability/accessibility, cost, advantages/disadvantages, and the intended audience of that tool.

  4. List any details reference librarians should be aware of when using and/or recommending this category of resource to a patron.

  5. Be sure to look at secondary or tertiary information about your resource category and/or resource example.

Review Instructions: (300-500 words, 10%)
Use the information you gathered in steps #1-5 above to write a professional review of your sample tool. Be sure to investigate how to write a review before you begin. Start here:

2. Resource Presentation or “Lightning” Talk weeks 6 & 10, 20% (5 minutes, plus 2-3 page reflection)
Lightning talks are brief presentations given on a specified topic, often at conferences or similar professional gatherings. The five-minute timeline given to presenters forces clarity of thought and articulation of a single concept. They are frequently delivered several at a time over one session and usually include visual and aural aids. Lightning talks take many forms, including Ignite or Pecha Kucha presentations. Increasingly, new apps allow for novel and creative ways of creating short standalone presentations. In this assignment, we will use the format to create presentations based on your resource evaluation.

This assignment gives you an opportunity a) to prepare and deliver a short, engaging, standalone bibliographic instruction presentation, b) to provide and receive feedback on your presentation content and style, and c) to engage in peer to peer instruction. Presentations will occur during two of the weeks we meet asynchronously (weeks 6 and 10). Students who wish to present related resources collaboratively are welcome to do so. (Please coordinate this with me in advance.)

Presentation Instructions: (5 minutes, online delivery)

  • Choose a format/tool with which to explain your resource. For example, you could create a video, a narrated slideshow, a whiteboard or other animation, a comic book or info-graphic, a website. I’ve even seen students write/perform an original song. Be creative, but also realistic.
  • You’ll have to provide your own resources to accomplish this in a limited time frame!
  • Research your format/tool until you understand how best to use it to achieve your goal, then create an instructional presentation that a user would interact with for about five minutes.Upload your content to e-class or to an appropriate public sharing forum (for example, a website, SlideShare, YouTube etc.)
  • In weeks 6 and 10, view the presentations your peers posted and offer some constructive feedback. What did you like? What are the opportunities for taking it to the ‘next level’?

Reflection Instructions:(2-3 pages) 

Provide a short summary and reflection explaining the context behind your final presentation. Consider some of the following questions:

  • What were the specific goal(s) of your bibliographic instruction tool?

  • Why did you choose this format to deliver your message?

  • What was the most enjoyable part? What was the most difficult part?

  • What did you learn from this experience?


  • Grading will be based on content and delivery. See rubric for more information.

  • You will receive/provide informal peer feedback on the presentation

3. Literature Search Draft:(8-10 pages) week 7, 10%

The literature search assignment gives you practical experience in navigating database searching to optimize the precision and recall of your results.

Literature Search Instructions:

  • Literature searches (sometimes broadly called ‘research’) happen on a regular basis in response to all kinds of professional or personal questions. Take a few moments to read about literature searches. Why do we do it? How do we do it?
  • For this assignment, you will do your own literature search. Choose a topic that a) interests you, and that b) is related in some way to Library and Information Science. Look to your course syllabi (especially from any of the required courses) for ideas. You are welcome to consider topics that intersect with other disciplines, or topics you need to research anyway for other assignments.
  • Create a concept map to visualize the many different facets or components of your topic. Think about your topic from different perspectives – perhaps demographic, geographic, temporal, social or others. Then narrow the topic by choosing the sub-area you are most interested in. Note that narrowing the topic is an iterative process. You’re choosing a starting point… know that it is ok for this to change as you learn more. 
  • Using the tools we discuss in class, and those you’ve discovered on your own, search for relevant information in at least three of the following information sources:
    • The U of A library catalogue using the Ebsco Discovery Service interface
    • The U of A library catalogue using the NEOS interface
    • Proquest’s Library and Information Science Abstracts (LISA) database
    • Ebsco’s Library and Information Science Source database
    • An alternate interdisciplinary database
    • Google Scholar
      An internet search engine or meta-search engine
  • Throughout your searching, take notes on the strategies and terms you used, their effectiveness and any problems you encountered. You do not have to record every citation your search results produce, but it may be useful to keep note of any particularly relevant materials and the number of results produced by various searches. Investigate the tools databases provide for tracking searches.
  • Write a report with the following details:
    • Define the term “literature search” as you understand it, and in relation to your reading on the subject.
    • Include a scan/copy of your concept map.
    • List all of your keywords and controlled vocabulary, noting the most effective terms.
    • Describe your search strategy (or strategies). For example, this may include the use of boolean operators, interface options, citation pearl growing, etc.
    • Compare your experience with the various databases/catalogues/search engines.
    • List your topic’s 10 most relevant citations.
    • Remember to include a reference list of secondary and/or tertiary resources used to complete this assignment.

4. Literature Search Final (8-10 pages)

Note: This assignment is due on Friday, December 2, 2016.

Over the second half of the term, revise your literature search process to improve the results. Incorporate the feedback received from your draft assignment, your increasing knowledge and experience of the search process, and further readings to revise your draft report. Include the following details:

  • Define the term “literature search” as you understand it, and in relation to your reading on the subject. Has your understanding of the concept changed over the term? If so, how?

  • Concept map (revised if your understanding of the topic has changed).

  • List of key words and controlled vocabulary, including new ones. Note the most effective terms.

  • Describe your most effective search strategy (or strategies). How has this changed?

  • Compare the various databases/catalogues/search engines, commenting on how your understanding of them evolved over the term.

  • How has your understanding of your topic changed since you submitted your draft search report?

  • List your topic’s final 10 most relevant citations. Comment on whether/how this list changed.

  • Remember to include a reference list of secondary and/or tertiary resources used in completing this assignment.



  • Grading for both parts of this assignment will be based on the quality of the search description and the report. See rubric for specific details.

  • Quality is determined by your ability to articulate what went right/wrong in your search process, how that relates to the readings this term, and what you learned from the process.  

5. Professionalism week 13, 10%
You are preparing to enter the information professions, and professionalism in class is expected. In-class activities count on your presence and your engagement for both your own benefit and the benefit of others. Ways to engage include arriving on time, being prepared, contributing to discussions, sharing resources and discoveries, assisting peers, and offering constructive feedback. Attendance does not count toward your professionalism mark, but absence will count against it. If you’re going to be away, kindly send me an email to excuse yourself (no explanation required). Believe it or not, we miss you when you’re not here!

6. Reference Interview and Reflection week 9, 20% (6-7 pages)
The reference interview assignment gives you practical experience in question negotiation and the opportunity to discover and use a range of resources to answer typical reference questions.


  • Grading will be based on the quality of the reference interview description and the reflection.

  • Quality is determined by your ability to articulate what went right/wrong in this reference interaction, how that relates to the readings this term, and what you learned from the process.  

Part A: Reference Interview Instructions

  1. Find a “patron” who is willing to ask you a reference question.

  2. Provide an appropriate reference interview while your patron asks their question.

  3. Develop a search strategy for locating an answer for your patron.

  4. Report what you found to your patron (verbal and/or written).

Part B: Reference Interview Report Instructions (3-4 pages)

  1. Document your reference interview with your patron. Record the question the patron asked, the specific questions you asked to refine and interpret the question, and comments made during the question negotiation – the more detail the better.

  2. Describe your search strategy in sufficient detail that it could be repeated. What resources did you consult, and did they work? Include some of the search strings you used, and what type of search it was (i.e. keyword, subject, author, etc.) – be specific.

  3. Include the answer you gave your patron, including any qualifications or limits you placed on the answer.

Part C: Reflection Instructions (3 pages)

Analyse this reference experience in a reflection. Focus on ideas that relate to the theory we've discussed this semster., and what you learned from the experience. Question to get you started in your reflection include:

  1. How closely did the xperience match your expectations? The literature/theory? 
  2. Once you finished the reference interview and started searching, were there new questions you thought of that you would have liked to ask?
  3. Is there anything you found that worked well, or something you would not do again?
  4. What did you learn about the reference interview process? About the search process? 
  5. How did your patron react to your answer? Was this surprising? 

Course Guide and Calendar

Week 1– September 6, 2016




Introduction to LIS; Scope of course; What are reference services?

Content (A)

Introduction; self-directed learning; flipped classroom; expectations; syllabus

Content (B)

How to succeed in Library School; What are reference services?
What is information?

Week 2– September 13, 2016




How do we interact with information? Information behaviour; Search strategies

Content (A)

Theory; Why and how do people seek, avoid, and respond to information? Information contexts and preferred sources; Who uses the library? What is information literacy? Neutrality and bias

Content (B)

Search strategies; Precision vs. Recall; Database ‘helpers’

Week 3– September 20, 2016

Asynchronous – no scheduled class, work at your own pace




Evaluating Sources

Content (A)

How do we recognize what to trust? Judging the quality of non-fiction

Content (B)

Use the extra time to work on your resource evaluation and review

Week 4–September 27, 2016


Resource Evaluation and Review (3-6 pages) 20%


Question negotiation and the reference interview; Searching the internet

Content (A)

Negotiating questions; Body language; interpreting & guessing; assuming; anticipating; Full disclosure; traps & limitations; accuracy of answers; patron satisfaction; Ready Reference Questions

Content (B)

Searching the internet; Getting the most out of Google

Week 5–October 4, 2016




Reference is not a monopoly; Information as a social act; Alternate ways of knowing

Content (A)

Curating and creating information; Web 2.0; Crowd sourcing

Content (B)

Informal information sources, non-documentary sources, indigenous knowledges

Week 6–October 11, 2016

Asynchronous – no scheduled class, work at your own pace

Peer to Peer

Resource presentations, (5 minutes online) 20%; Feedback to peers

Week 7–October 18, 2016


Literature Search Draft (8-10 pages) 10%


Pleasure reading – fiction as more than just fun

Content (A)

Purposes of Fiction; Benefits of Fiction Reading; Genres

Content (B)

Readers’ Advisory; How do we recommend? How do we recommend across genres if we’re not familiar with them?

Week 8– October 25, 2016




No ‘shushing’ here; Library programming; Innovation in information services

Content (A)

Reading programs; Makerspaces; Outreach; Partnerships & Referral

Content (B)

Innovation and entrepreneurship

Week 9– November 1, 2016


Reference Question (6-7 pages) 20%


Non-traditional Librarians and librarianship; Stewardship

Content (A)

Information Professional vs. Librarian; Point of need reference services; Embedded librarianship; Roving Reference

Content (A)

Communication; Political, social, and power aspects of reference

|Reading Week – November 7-10, 2016 – NO CLASSES THIS WEEK

Week 10– November 15, 2016

Asynchronous – no scheduled class, work at your own pace

Peer to Peer

Resource presentations, Feedback to peers

Week 11–November 22, 2016




Equality, Inclusivity, Diversity, Ethics

Content (A)

Inclusive information services; Special needs populations; Digital Divide; Diversity

Content (B)

Ethics, censorship, privacy and privilege

Week 12–November 29, 2016


Literature Review Final Report (8-10 pages) 20% – DUE DECEMBER 2, 2016


Serving the Profession; Serving the Institution; Building capacity

Content (A)

Evaluating/Increasing library use;

Content (B)

The Profession; Marketing; Staying current; Associations; Conferences;

Week 13–December 6, 2016 Summary and Course Review




Summary and Review