Reference Work

Some General Rules for Reference Work

  1. Never say, "We don't have it." Tell the patron, "I can get that for you" or "Our backup reference center can get that information." Think, “Yes!” and refer the question. Don’t say "No" without being absolutely sure you cannot get the information.

  2. If you don't have the answer, offer to try to get it for the patron, and send the question on to your central library or to your reference center. When you do send a question on, get as much information as possible about what is needed. Relay everything the patron tells you, no matter how trivial it seems. It may be important later. Be sure to find out where the patron heard of the subject, book, or article.

  3. Be sure you understand the question yourself. If someone asks for a book on foundations, do they want something on house construction, organizations, or women's apparel? If it's a more complicated question, be sure you understand it well enough to explain it clearly to someone else.

  4. When giving out information, always give the patron the name of the source where you found it.

  5. Always looks the answer up. Don't reply off the top of your head. It's too easy to be wrong. For example, when asked for the spelling of a word, always check in the dictionary, even though you think you know how to spell it.

  6. Don't point. Get up and take the patron to the book, or bring the book to the patron.

  7. Be as accurate and objective as possible. If you can, check facts in more than one place and if there is a conflict tell the patron what you found and where. Give her any information about the sources you can, but let her decide which is correct.

  8. Always be helpful, courteous and sympathetic, as you never know the situation the patron might be in as they ask for information.

  9. Respect the privacy of the patron. We have a duty to keep the transactions between our patrons and us confidential so don't bandy them about outside of work.

  10. Maintain a positive attitude toward all questions and patrons. Smiling is always an effective way to indicate that you are willing to be helpful and spend time addressing a patron’s concern or question. Smiling also puts you in a better frame of mind to give positive service to the patron.

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This page was last updated on April 29, 2003.