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Communication Overload: A Phenomenological Inquiry into Academic Reference Librarianship
Journal of Documentation (2012)
  • C. Sean Burns, University of Missouri
  • Jenny Bossaller, University of Missouri
Purpose – This study aims to provide insight on the meaning of communication overload as experienced by modern academic librarians. Communication is the essence of reference librarianship, and a practically endless array of synchronous and asynchronous communication tools (ICTs) are available to facilitate communication. Design/methodology/approach – This study relied on a phenomenological methodology, which included nine in-depth interviews with academic librarians. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using RQDA, a qualitative analysis software package that facilitates coding, category building, and project management. Findings – Seven themes about librarianship emerged from this research: attending to communication abundance, librarians of two types, instruction not reference, twenty-first century librarianship, user needs, trusted methods: filter not retrieve, and self-impact. The shared meaning of communication overload among these librarians is that it is a problem when it detracts from or hinders their ability to assist their users. Practical implications – Further research should contribute to an understanding of communication as a problem when it interferes with serving the librarians' users, or to an understanding of interpersonal communication within the librarians' organizational structures and in their broader professional networks. Social implications – Research in popular psychology has focused on the negative impacts on productivity and concentration of living in an always-plugged-in environment. This research confirms that librarians should have time to work away from digital distractions to maintain job satisfaction. Originality/value – Important work by Radford and Dervin has focused on communication with users. This study focuses on the impact of ICTs on librarians' work and personal lives.
  • Academic libraries,
  • Communication,
  • Communication technologies,
  • Information technology,
  • Knowledge workers,
  • Librarians,
  • Phenomenology,
  • Reference services
Publication Date
January, 2012
Publisher Statement

The manuscript provided is the author's post-print version. The article was published in Journal of Documentation, 68.5 (2012): 597-617. DOI: 10.1108/00220411211255996.

This article is (c) Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here ( Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Citation Information
C. Sean Burns and Jenny Bossaller. "Communication Overload: A Phenomenological Inquiry into Academic Reference Librarianship" Journal of Documentation Vol. 68 Iss. 5 (2012)
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