Re-conceiving time in reference and information services work: a qualitative secondary analysis

Jenny Bossaller, Christopher Sean Burns, Amy VanScoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to use the sociology of time to understand how time is perceived by academic librarians who provide reference and information service (RIS). Design/methodology/approach: This study is a qualitative secondary analysis (QSA) of two phenomenological studies about the experience of RIS in academic libraries. The authors used QSA to re-analyze the interview transcripts to develop themes related to the perception of time. Findings: Three themes about the experience of time in RIS work were identified. Participants experience time as discrete, bounded moments but sometimes experience threads through these moments that provide continuity, time is framed as a commodity that weighs on the value of the profession, and time plays an integral part of participants’ narratives and professional identities. Research limitations/implications: Given that the initial consent processes vary across organizations and types of studies, the researchers felt ethically compelled to share only excerpts from each study’s data, rather than the entire data set, with others on the research team. Future qualitative studies should consider the potential for secondary analysis and build data management and sharing plans into the initial study design. Practical implications: Most discussions of time in the literature are presented as a metric – time to answer a query, time to conduct a task – The authors offer a more holistic understanding of time and its relationship to professional work. Social implications: The methodology taken in this paper makes sense of the experiences of work in RIS for librarians. It identifies commonalities between the experience of time and work for RIS professionals and those of other professionals, such as physicians and software engineers. It suggests revising models for RIS, as well as some professional values. Originality/value: This paper contributes a better understanding of time, understudied as a phenomenon that is experienced or perceived, among RISs providers in academic libraries. The use of secondary qualitative analysis is an important methodological contribution to library and information science studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-17
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Documentation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Academic libraries
  • Phenomenology
  • Qualitative secondary analysis
  • Reference services
  • Secondary analysis
  • Sociology of time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


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