Mistakes and Failures at the Desk

Don Warner Saklad passed along Mistakes and Failures at the Reference Desk By Lydia Olszak
This study, based on data collected through observation and structured interviews, explores the incidence of mistakes and failures by reference staff in an academic library. Three main questions are addressed: (1) what actions or behaviors constitute a mistake or failure? (2) what techniques are used by reference staff to alert each other of mistakes? and (3) do mistakes at the reference desk conform with the typology developed by Bosk in his study of medical mistakes? Results suggest that reference librarians must deal with competing goals and that providing a correct answer may not be the most important goal for every transaction.

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