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Developing A Reference Policy

Guest Author - Paula Laurita

Take time to look at developing or re-look at your current reference policy. Does the policy serve the patron, the staff, or does it create a balance? Here are some issues to consider.

What is your library's reference policy. Is it the same for the adult services and children's services areas?

Types of Questions
Are all questions treated equally? Are answers to crossword puzzle clues treated the same as other research questions? Libraries should strive to answer all reference and information questions efficiently, accurately, completely, and in a timely manner. Why a person wants information is not the for the reference librarian to judge.

The reference staffs deal every day with the educational, recreational, and informational needs of the community they serve. What are your states and/or school's confidentiality laws? Patron information requests should be treated with the same confidentiality as circulation records. Since many patrons seek information on sensitive legal, health, or financial issues patrons should trust that their requests will not be repeated throughout the community. It is the role of the reference staff to lead patrons to the information they request. The reference staff is an information provider, not a physician, health care professional, lawyer or counselor.

Courtesy and Interest
All patrons seeking information assistance should be treated with respect. Make eye contact with the person and don't forget the importance of a welcoming smile. Lead the patron to the information, but don't hesitate to leave them to scan the stacks for themselves. I will often take patrons to the the books they requested and say, "I'll give you time to browse, but if you need me please let me know." This allows patrons to look for sensitive information, but know that I am still available to assist.

Patrons in the Library vs. on the Telephone
Patrons should be served in turn, with patrons present in the library taking priority over the telephone. If you have a patron in front of you and a ringing telephone, answer the phone and ask the person to hold. Then ask the patron present how you can help. Assertain if you can quickly get back to the person on the phone. If not ask for the telephone patron's refernece question, name, and telephone number. It may be something as quick as, "Does the library have tax forms?"

Reference Interview
Be aware that what the patron is asking may not be what they actually want. During the course of the reference interview the staff should paraphrase, summarize, and verify the question to make sure the patron and the library staff member have the same understanding of the question.

If possible the reference staff should accompany the patron when searching for sources and not simply direct him to an area.

Are you going to try and teach the patron how to find the information in the future or simply provide information? Will you give the patron a fish or teach him how to fish? While teaching patrons how to find information for themselves may take more time it will enable them to become pro-active users of the library. This does not diminish the need for reference staff, but allows the staff to better use their time and abilities as patrons library skills improve.

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Content copyright © 2014 by Paula Laurita. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Paula Laurita. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Christine Sharbrough for details.

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