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).


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.


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.


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.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in Journal of Documentation, v. 73, issue 1, p..2-17.

© Emerald Publishing Limited 2017

The copyright holder has granted the permission for posting the article here.

The document available for download is the authors' post-peer-review final draft of the article.

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