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Robert S Taylor (redirected from Robert)

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Bibliographical and Education Information

Robert S. Taylor is an accomplished librarian, educator and author. Taylor was born in Ithaca, New York on June 15th, 1918. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University in 1940, a Master of Science from Columbia University in 1950, and a Master of Arts from Lehigh University in 1954. (Who's Who in America 2006)



Professional Experience

Taylor worked as a librarian at Lehigh University from 1950 until 1966. He was a professor and Director of Information Science at LeHigh University. Taylor went on to become the Director of Library Center and a professor for the Program in Language and Communications at Hampshire College from 1967 until 1972. He then went on to the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University where he was a professor from 1972 until 1983. While Taylor was at Syracuse he served as the Dean from 1972 until 1981. (Who's Who in America 2006)



1972 Best Information Science Book - ASIS; 1956 Fulbright Lecturer.


Contributions to Reference Services

Robert Taylor’s major contributions to reference services and information studies were his published articles on question negotiation, beginning with The Process of Asking Questions in 1962.

Taylor described four levels of information need as:


Q1 – the actual, but unexpressed need for information (the visceral need)

Q2 – the conscious, with-in brain description of the need (the conscious need)

Q3 – the formal statement of the need (the formalized need)

Q4 – the question as presented to the information system (the compromised need)

(Question Negotiation and Information Seeking, 182)


The visceral level (Q1) is the initial need for information that a user has. This need will change as information is added. At the conscious level (Q2) the user has an ambiguous mental description of what it is that he or she is looking for, but may need a colleague to help them focus the topic. At this the stage the user has a conscious description of the process. At the formal level (Q3), the user can form a question The user may question whether or not the information system can answer their question and the user may or may not realize that the librarian is a part of the information system. The compromised level (Q4) is the level in which the question is formalized. This is the stage in which the user may contact the reference librarian or take into account the organization of the files of information the library posses (books, pamphlets, tables, etc.) The reference librarian may have to go back to earlier stages in order to obtain information from the process that will help attain the answer to the inquiry.


Taylor’s question negotiation was influenced by James W. Perry’s model of the four stages of query formulation (Q0-Q3). In Understanding Reference Transactions: Transforming an Art into a Science, Matthew L. Saxton and John V. Richardson illustrate that, “although this article (), one of the most highly cited sources in the literature of reference service, includes an interesting chart of the prenegotiation decisions by the inquirer, Taylor’s more significant contribution is in his description of the actual reference transaction itself” (24).


The reference librarian uses five filters that questions must go through to assist in the search for answers. The five filters a librarian must account for are: (1) determination of the subject, (2) objective and motivation, (3) the personal characteristics of the customer, (4) the relationship of the inquiry to file organization and (5) anticipated or acceptable answers. Saxton and Richardson point out that “the second filter is the most important because it reduces search times substantially and determines what constitutes an appropriate response” (24).

In The Reference Encounter, Marie L. Radford states that, “Robert S. Taylor’s seminal article introducing the term question negotiation to describe the reference process was perhaps the most influential theoretical work of this time” (the 1960s) (10).

Taylor’s work on question negotiation was important for reference service because it “influenced several related studies in the late 1960s and 1970s that emphasized the analysis and description of communication dynamics” (Radford, 10).


Related Links

James W Perry

Question Negotiation



Chassie, K. (2005). Who's Who in America 2006. New Providence: Marquis Who's Who, 60 (2).


Radford, M. L. (1999).The Reference Experience. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.


Saxton, M. L. & Richardson Jr., J. V. (2002). Understanding Reference Transactions: Transforming an Art into a Science. New York: Academic Press.


Taylor, R. S. (1998). For Whom We Design Systems. Retrieved October 18, 2006, from http://www.libsci.sc.edu/BOB/ISP/taylor2.htm


Taylor, R. S.(1968). Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries. College and Research Libraries, 29 (May): 178-194.


Taylor, R. S. (1962). The Process of Asking Questions. American Documentation, 13 (October): 391-396.


Taylor, R. S. (1967) Question-negotiation and Information-seeking in Libraries. Bethlehem, Pa.: Center for the Information Sciences, Lehigh University.


Michael Mackavoy

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