Reference Policies

Reference policies

Does your library have a policy manual for reference services? All libraries offering reference service should have statement of objectives, a description of the types and levels of services offered, and guidelines to help personnel who provide this service. The reference service policy must also support the library's mission statement and overall goals.

What purposes do reference policies serve? According to Janet Easley(1), they

  1. Establish standards of service,
  2. Assist in training new staff members,
  3. Establish levels of service to users, including limits of service,
  4. Establish priorities of service, and
  5. Describe practical procedures that answer practical questions.

What is included in a reference policy? Deborah Grodinsky(2) suggests this basic outline.

  1. Statement of library's mission.
  2. Mission of reference department.
  3. Purpose of reference guidelines.
  4. Reference staff.
  5. Library users.
  6. General guidelines for desk service.
  7. Specific desk service guidelines.
  8. Specific question guidelines.o
  9. Online searching.
  10. Loan of reference materials.

If you are offering virtual reference service, you will need to update your reference policy. Anne Grodzins Lipow (3) lists issues your policies should cover:

  1. Eligibility. How will you respond to people who live outside your jurisdiction?
  2. Confidentiality. How long and for what purpose will you save transcripts of completed transactions? What will we do to ensure that the FAQ file will be rephrased enough so that it cannot be atributable to the person who asked the question?
  3. Use of licensed databases to answer questions. What is the policy for answering questions from a database the libray subscribes to? What is the policy about emailing or faxing an answer from a licensed database?
  4. How will you identify yourself to the client? Will you use your full name? The name of your library?
  5. Delivery of material to the client. Will you fax or mail pages from a journal? Will you send books or other formats via the US Mail?
  6. Average length of transaction. How long, on average, will you spend on a transaction?
  7. Client satisfaction. What service behaviors will ensure client satisfaction? How will the cliet register a complaint?
  8. Inappropriate client behavior. What constitutes inappropriate behavior or objectionable language?
  9. Questionable questions. What categories of questions will your library reject (homework, illegal material, out of the scope of the library's collection).
  10. Limit of tranactions per client. What is the maximum number of questions a person can ask within a specified time period?
  11. Follow-up. Under what circumstances will you offer to follow up after a transaction has ended? Under what circumstances will you suggest clients contact the service for additional information?

    The main reason for reference policies is to provide the best possible service to all our patrons. If your library has a set of reference policies you might want to insert a copy here, or make note of where you can find it quickly.

    1. Easley, Janet. "Reference Service Policies," Reference Services Review 13 (Summer, 1985): 79-82.
    2. Grodinsky, Deborah. "Developing a Model Reference Policy," Illinois Libraries 73 (November 1991): 513-14.
    3. Lipow, Anne Grodzins, The Virtual Reference Librarian's Handbook, Neal-Schuman, c2003, pp77-89.

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    This page was written by Mark Ranum, February, 2003. The virtual reference policies section was written by Rebecca Patton on October 25, 2003.