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These full-text references eliminate the intermediate step characteristic of older systems in which users first performed an electronic search and then obtained the articles themselves in print or microfilm.Reference services can be broadly divided into two main aspects, usually known as retrospective searching (or information retrieval) and current-awareness service (or selective dissemination of information).
In scholarly libraries, assistance to readers once was generally limited to explaining the layout of the library and the use of the catalog; in universities, members of the faculty would have been expected to know the literature of their subject better than any librarian.
Matching the terms used by a reader in posing a question to the terms used by authors, indexers, and catalogers may well constitute one of the subtlest of professional skills.
The outcome of a search can take many forms, from a short, factual statement that gives the needed information to a short list of relevant references or a full-scale bibliography.
Open access to the shelves and the facility to borrow books mean that much of the use of a modern library is at the free choice of the reader; scholars and scientists continue to emphasize the value of browsing among the shelves of a well-arranged library.
“Chance favours only the prepared mind,” said , and serendipitous discoveries of useful information during the search for some other subject have become a familiar and welcome aspect of using a library or other information service.
When a reasonable number of hits has been reached, the computer can be instructed to display the details of a few references to show the reader whether or not the search has covered the right subject area.