The purpose of this Reference Services Policy is to offer general guidelines for the provision of reference services of the highest possible quality and provision of a foundation for implementation of a standard policy. This policy statement is intended for use as a guide for ODU Library reference staff, a basis for evaluation of ODU Library reference services, and a description of services offered by the ODU Library reference staff and the extent to which they are provided.
The Head of Reference and Instruction Services, in conjunction with the Director of Library Services, is responsible for creating and updating this policy document. Any edits to this policy statement require the approval of the Director of Library Services. This policy is to be reviewed annually.
This policy statement will be made available upon request, whenever a question may arise concerning the quality or scope of reference services that the ODU Library provides.
We, the staff of Ohio Dominican University Library, promote information literacy and inspire lifelong learning by providing personalized service and access to resources while addressing the research needs of the university community.
As active agents in the promotion of information literacy, the ODU Library reference staff members recognize the importance of training and assisting patrons in using the library and its resources successfully. ODU reference librarians strive to empower patrons to conduct their own research and consider learning how to use the library's information sources to be vital to lifelong learning. Reference services are available primarily to the ODU community.
The ODU Library reference staff consists exclusively of full-time and part-time librarians, each of whom has either a Masters in Library Science (MLS or MSLS) or Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS).
To help address the research needs of the ODU community, the library will maintain an up-to-date, relevant, and accessible collection of reference materials, including print and electronic resources. The collection development and maintenance of the library's in-house reference collection is the responsibility of the Head of Reference and Instruction Services and the budget for which is the responsibility of the Director, Library Services. Reference collection development policies and procedures are outlined in the ODU Library's Collection Development Manual.
Use of the in-house Reference Collection is supplemented by use of online resources such as electronic databases and additional sources available through the Internet.
Reference materials are generally non-circulating, with the exception of Current Topics Books, which may be checked out for 3 days with no renewal (refer to the ). Additional exceptions may be made for faculty and teaching staff, depending on the nature of the materials, the projected need, and the prospective period of circulation.
The Head of Reference and Instruction Services may give permission for reference materials to circulate, or the librarian on duty at the Reference Desk, if the Head of Reference and Instruction Services cannot be reached for a decision within a reasonable amount of time. In the case of such an exception, a reference item may circulate for 24 hours, maximum 48 hours. (Check-out procedures performed by Head, Public Services, or in her absence, Head, Technical Services, or Director, Library Services.)
Additionally, reference materials are not placed on Reserve, in accordance with the Reserves Manual and reference services policy. Since reference books are to be readily available at all times to ODU faculty, staff, and students and reference books do not leave the library, they do not need to be placed on Reserve.
ODU librarians who provide reference service may supply general information concerning the library's resources, collections, and services, as well as specific aid in clarifying queries and locating information. They assist patrons in finding information and in learning how to conduct research to find information on their own.
Librarians who provide reference service do not supply answers to students' assignments, do students' research, or compile bibliographies of information sources, and they typically refer computer hardware and software questions to the ODU Computer Helpdesk.
ODU Library reference services should reflect the Guidelines for Information Services of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association. These national guidelines address the following areas of information service: Services - Resources - Access - Personnel - Evaluation - Ethics.
The guidelines are available at . Librarians who provide reference services are responsible for familiarizing themselves with these guidelines in addition to this Reference Services Policy.
ODU Library’s librarians who provide reference service aim to provide comprehensive services to library patrons. Comprehensive reference service can be defined in terms of answering the query and/or providing the means for the patron to find the answer to the query:
A. Assessing the nature of the information query and providing an appropriate answer
B. Providing the means or method to obtain the information, as in the following examples:
- Instructing the patron in how to research a topic, construct an effective search strategy, or search in a particular tool in order to find the information
- Assisting the patron with finding the information
- Assisting patrons in knowing the criteria for evaluating information sources or distinguishing between various sources; and
- Following up to ensure that needed information has been obtained or that the means or method has been satisfactorily applied.
As active agents in the promotion of information literacy, the ODU Library reference staff members recognize the importance of training and assisting patrons in using the library and its resources successfully. ODU reference librarians strive to empower patrons to conduct their own research and consider learning how to use the library's information sources to be vital to lifelong learning.
While librarians who provide reference service will aid in identifying the criteria for evaluation of an information resource, they are not obligated to interpret the intellectual content of the information found in library resources or evaluate the information for inclusion in a student assignment.
Librarians who provide reference service are likewise not obligated to provide assistance in formatting citations. They may refer patrons to the appropriate resources available or refer a patron to the Write Place.
Reference staff will answer queries in person, by phone, and by email. Reference staff members respond to directional queries, ready reference queries, and requests for in-depth research assistance. Types of questions answered can be categorized as follows:
- Direction Questions: Questions regarding the location of a person, place, or department.
- Ready Reference Questions: Questions that can be answered in 5-10 minutes and are not directional questions.
- In-depth Reference Questions: In-depth research questions, which require 15 minutes or more to answer.
All information needs of every library patron will be taken seriously and treated with respect, courtesy, interest, and confidentiality (see also section ).
The librarian providing reference services will conclude the reference encounter only after providing either some information relevant to the query OR the guidance necessary for the patron's continued pursuit of information, including, if appropriate, instruction in the use of library resources.
Reference services should reflect the Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers, from the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). These guidelines outline professional behavior in reference and information services, detailing the importance of the following:
Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers (GBP) is available at . Reference staff are responsible for familiarizing themselves with said guidelines in addition to this Policy Statement.
To help ensure successful reference transactions, the librarian on duty at the Reference Desk will be approachable throughout the librarian's reference shift and respond to any patron within the Reference area or any patron who phones the Reference Desk. The librarian on duty at the desk will therefore be “poised and ready to engage approaching patrons” and cognizant of the need to disengage in any non-reference activities when patrons approach to focus attention on patron needs (section 1.2 of the GBP). This may include acknowledging the presence of patrons through eye contact and a smile or with other attentive and welcoming body language, a friendly greeting to initiate conversation, and remaining visible to patrons as much as possible (GBP 1.4, 1.5, 1.6).
Librarians will also make themselves approachable and responsive to patrons beyond the immediate area of the reference desk by offering assistance at the patron’s point of need. To accomplish this, librarians on duty at the Reference Desk will occasionally rove throughout the first floor, proactively approach patrons, and offer assistance (GBP 1.7).
Since librarians on reference duty must balance the needs of all patrons seeking assistance, simultaneous requests will be managed at the librarian’s discretion based upon user urgency, the number of other patrons simultaneously seeking assistance, the types of reference queries, the availability of additional reference staff, time constraints, and the librarian's own level of expertise.
In all cases, a reasonable effort will be made by the librarian on reference duty to respond in a way satisfactory to the patron(s). When time constraints intervene, the librarian may arrange to meet with the patron outside the Reference Desk schedule or agree to find the information at a more convenient time and report back to the patron.
Since ODU Library has no subject bibliographers, each librarian who provides reference service is responsible for being a generalist; that is, each librarian on duty is responsible for any question that may come to the desk.
If a query requires in-depth assistance beyond that librarian's level of expertise, however, the patron may be referred to another librarian with more knowledgeable in the specific subject area (see ).
In keeping with the ODU Library’s mission to provide personalized service and access to information for the ODU community, the reference staff is dedicated to providing ODU patrons with disabilities a quality of reference services that aims to enable them to participate fully in the access and use of resources offered, so far as is reasonably feasible. For the purposes of this policy, “disability,” “disabilities,” and “disabled” may refer to any mobility or sensory impairment.
Reference staff shall therefore go beyond the normal level of services to make the library’s resources accessible to patrons with disabilities to the extent possible.
For ODU faculty, staff, and students with a mobility or sensory impairment, reference librarians may offer the following services, as needed:
- Retrieving needed items from the stacks
- Reading aloud headlines of online resources identified during the reference interview
- Reading brief documents to assist in identifying resources during the reference interview
If a patron with a disability desires a guide created by Reference and Instruction Services, but cannot read it in the format provided, then the librarian on reference duty will refer the patron to the Head of Reference and Instruction Services, for assistance. In addition, reference staff may assist in photocopying if requested; photocopying of printed material, however, is at the patron’s expense.
ODU Library Reference staff will work with the Academic Resource Center and the Directory of Library Services to ensure disabled patrons have access to the appropriate support to enable them to use the range of reference services and library resources offered to the ODU community. If we cannot meet a patron’s needs, we will endeavor to refer the patron to an alternative access point.
When Access Services receives a reference question, the staff member should refer the patron to the librarian on reference duty, whether the librarian is currently with another patron or not. The librarian will then determine whether to assist multiple patrons synchronously, ask the patron to wait, or see if another librarian is available.
When the Reference Desk is closed and Access Services receives a reference question in person, the staff member will direct patrons to (a) for assistance from ODU Reference librarians once Reference Services is open again, referring also to the Reference Services hours listed at , and (b) for immediate assistance from librarians outside ODU. For reference queries received by telephone, Access Services staff will offer the patron the option of forwarding their question to the Reference Services voicemail or providing the patron with the aforementioned reference email.
The librarian providing reference services may find it necessary or advisable to refer patrons to other collections, services, or sources of information within or external to the library.
A referral to another librarian may be necessary if the librarian on reference duty does not possess the in-depth expertise or knowledge needed to answer a reference question.
When initiating a referral to another librarian, the librarian on reference duty should notify the colleague of the referral and outline the sources already checked.
If the referral is expected to be responded to immediately, i.e., the patron is currently at hand and desiring assistance, then the librarian on duty will first establish whether the desired librarian is available at the time before making the referral.
If the referral is not expected to be responded to immediately, then the librarian on duty will notify the appropriate librarian when the information/assistance is needed and will provide patron contact information. The referred librarian will follow up with the patron as soon as possible.
Referrals to outside sources should be made only after all other possibilities have been exhausted or the patron specifically requests such a referral.
Referrals to outside sources may be made based on the librarian's knowledge of resources, services, or information available from other libraries, institutions, or departments.
The librarian making the referral should (1) confirm during the reference transaction the availability of the needed information, service, or item(s) from the recommended outside source and (2) provide any necessary contact information or item information to the patron.
Availability of needed items/services may be confirmed by searching other library catalogs or by phoning or emailing ahead to verify availability of services or items.
Referrals to the use of Interlibrary Loan (ILLiad) should be made only after having determined that the requested item(s) are not owned by the ODU Library, not available online, and not available via the OhioLINK Library Catalog.
In addition, the librarian providing reference services should ensure that the patron has a sufficient bibliographic citation and should assist the patron, if necessary, in initiating an ILLiad user account or properly filling out the Interlibrary Loan Request Form.
In general, the reference staff seeks to provide equality of service to all patrons. In the case of multiple synchronous requests for service at the Reference Desk, the librarian on reference duty will typically give first priority to in-person requests, then second and third priority to telephone and email requests, respectively. The librarian on reference duty will use the guiding principles outlined herein to supplement his or her best judgment in prioritizing the requests.
The Reference Desk is staffed by a professional librarian during Reference Desk hours, which are posted on the library's . While on a Reference Desk shift, the librarian on duty will maintain a visible, professional presence at the Reference Desk, unless the shift is on-call, according to the Reference Services Policy guidelines (review Reference Desk Hours in section VI). Exceptions may include such events as the necessity to assist patrons away from the desk, roaming during downtime to inquire proactively whether any patron needs assistance, and to take a break during longer reference shifts.
Reference staff are assigned to specific scheduled hours and will render services at their scheduled times and remain in Spangler throughout their shift, most if not all, of that time at the Reference Desk. Scheduled reference hours take priority over other work obligations, with the exception of requested instruction or any event in which the Reference Desk closes (see ). Reference staff will be appropriately, professionally attired, according to ODU policy, when providing reference or instruction services.
The following guidelines should apply to staffing of the Reference Desk:
1. Acknowledging the importance of approachability, the librarian on duty will not spend time away from the Reference Desk to attend to lengthy or repeated non-reference services duties during the Reference Desk shift unless the shift is on-call, nor spend much time working with other staff members at the Reference Desk.
2. To ensure our availability to patrons, if the shift is on-call, the librarian on duty will remain in Spangler during the entirety of the shift and inform the appropriate staff if the librarian is to leave the top floor for any reason, providing the location where the librarian can be reached.
3. Circulation desk coverage and related responsibilities and tasks should typically be maintained by non-reference personnel, to help ensure Reference Desk coverage by reference personnel.
4. Librarians who provide reference service are to maintain familiarity with all policies of the ODU Library as well as the American Library Association's Code of Ethics (available at ); and while staffing the Reference Desk, the librarian on duty should be a model of those policies.
5. To ensure coverage, the librarian at the Reference Desk will remain at the desk until the next shift's librarian comes out to the desk.
6. If the librarian on duty is working with a patron and that librarian's shift comes to an end, the librarian can choose to continue with the patron until the reference interview is completed, or hand over to the librarian of the incoming shift, whose responsibility it is to check with the librarian on duty.
At the Reference Desk, service to library patrons in the reference area takes priority over any other activity. Librarians on duty at the Reference Desk must balance the needs of all patrons in the area and must use judgment in determining how best to serve the patrons simultaneously needing assistance.
In the event of a lengthy in-depth reference search, the librarian on reference duty may provide a patron with materials to help the patron start researching, then turn to assist other patrons, returning to the first patron as soon as feasible. Or the librarian on duty may request assistance from another member of the reference staff.
Lower priority is given to responding to telephone calls than responding to patrons in the reference area. The librarian on duty at the Reference Desk is responsible for responding to telephone calls. Information given is then generally only brief responses, including typically no more than three bibliographic or catalog verifications for an individual telephone user.
When the reference area is busy, the librarian on duty will respond to a telephone call during a reference exchange at the Reference Desk, but may do one or more of the following as deemed appropriate to the circumstances by the librarian:
1. Put the caller temporarily on hold;
2. Take the caller's name and contact information and call or email him/her back;
3. Encourage the caller to come to the library for reference assistance
ODU Library Reference Services supports email reference, which also supports text message inquiries, and participates in .
ODU Library email reference (), is designed primarily to answer brief, factual questions such as verifying a bibliographic citation, looking up spelling or a definition of words, or finding addresses of companies. Librarians providing email reference service aim to provide reliable information, but patrons must determine which sources meet their particular needs.
To provide ODU patrons with access to IM reference, ODU Library promotes the use of , and ODU librarians and respect the professional guidelines of KnowItNow (more information on and of KnowItNow available). IM reference is designed primarily to answer brief questions; librarians may refer ODU patrons to the Reference Desk or for an appointment with a librarian for follow up if needed.
Librarians providing virtual reference service (email or IM) will not provide the following via email reference:
1. Information confidential to the university or its departments
2. Answers to quiz/test questions or in-depth research (e.g., compiling a bibliography, searching through multiple issues of a periodical)
3. Lengthy research consultations, unless necessary
Virtual reference can attend to research-related tasks, including brief instruction in using the library online catalog, databases, and other library resources. For in-depth research consultation, librarians may request the patron make an appointment, in the form of an in-person meeting. Questions which require intensive research or extensive answers cannot be answered using the electronic reference service.
In the case of receiving questions inappropriate for reference service, librarians will direct the patron to a source able to answer the questions (e.g., MLA style, in which case we would refer the patron to the Academic Resource Center). ODU Library's librarians reserve the right to terminate a virtual reference exchange in the event of abusive, obscene, threatening or harassing messages or false identification.
To ensure patron privacy, reference queries by emails are accessed only by ODU librarians and KnowItNow transcripts are secured. ODU Library retains no identifying personal information in the long term. Some e-mail with identifying information may be retained temporarily so that reference staff may refer to earlier information when answering ongoing reference questions. After 30 days, names and email addresses of any emails maintained on file are erased and only the content of the email is retained.
The email reference service is intended primarily for Ohio Dominican University students, staff, and faculty. Patrons outside the ODU community may be referred to other information service providers outside of ODU.
To ensure timely responsiveness to patrons, the librarian(s) will regularly check for IM messages and respond to them immediately and regularlyl check for email and respond as soon as possible within 24 hours, with the exception of weekend questions, which may be responded to on the following Monday, and holidays when the library is closed.
It is the responsibility of the librarian who responds to the electronic query, email or IM, to make note of the query in the Reference Statistics binder.
Faculty/staff research requests will be responded to in a timely manner by librarians providing such service, with reference service taking priority over other duties.
Phone messages and email requests from faculty/staff should be responded to initially within the same window of time as any email query: within one day, with the exception of weekend queries on the following Monday. If the librarian contacted is out of the office, initial response should then be made as soon as possible.
Generally, the liaison best suited to respond to such a request will be responsible for a reply. If the faculty/staff has not submitted a research request form online, then the liaison will be responsible for completing a research request form on the F drive to enable accurate statistics gathering. The librarian who replies to the request will also be responsible for entering the statistics in the three-ring binder at the Reference Desk.
Regular reference service hours are listed on the Ask a Librarian page (http://www.ohiodominican.edu/library/help/ask.aspx#faq).
The Reference Desk is closed when Spangler Learning Center is closed; no reference services are available during that time. (.)
The Reference Desk also closes during the following events so that the librarians may attend these activities. No reference services are available during these events:
- Aquinas Convocation, in January
- St. Albert the Great Lecture, in November
- University Assembly
The Reference Desk is closed Sundays of weekends that are impacted by major holidays, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day, or any other holiday that falls on a Monday in the calendar year.
Additional conditions may necessitate the closing of the Reference Desk during regular hours, such as the following:
- If instruction is requested at the same time that the requested librarian is to be on the Reference Desk and no other coverage can be provided, based on the judgment of Head, Reference and Instruction Services.
- Any event that requires closure of the library.
In the event of closure during regular hours, appropriate signage should be posted at the desk notifying patrons of the closure duration and, when possible, of the reason for the closure. This is the responsibility of Head, Reference and Instruction Services or, in the absence of this individual, the librarian scheduled to be on duty at the Reference Desk immediately prior to the closure of the Reference Desk.
The times when a librarian on reference duty may be on-call are determined by the Head of Reference and Instruction Services in consultation with the Director, Library Services.
Typically, on-call times are as follows:
- Library staff and team meetings
- During Spring Break and Winter Break
- May Term & SummerTerm--Daytime hours only (9 am - 5 pm)
- Any day when there are no classes but the library remains--Daytime hours only (9 am - 5 pm)
- Examples: Finals Week, Monday after Easter weekend.
Reference Desk shift schedules are created by the Head of Reference and Instruction Services to ensure reference service availability and are to be used by the librarians who staff the Reference Desk, as well as the Circulation Services staff.
These schedules should also include RIST and staff meeting times, as well as the meeting times of other ODU Library teams, and may include additional pertinent information regarding availability of reference staff or times for additional meetings.
Review of the schedule and adjustments to the schedule are a team effort, involving those who staff the Reference Desk. Changes to the schedule should be indicated on the schedule as needed.
The reference staff will treat all library patrons with respect and demonstrate a willingness to assist patrons in fulfilling their information needs and inquiries to the full extent of the reference philosophy stated in this policy.
Reference assistance to library patrons is the chief responsibility of the librarian on duty at the Reference Desk. In order to encourage users to seek assistance, librarians providing reference service will be approachable at all times during the reference shift, whether the communication is in person, by phone, or by email. Librarians may do other work at the Reference Desk but should not become so engrossed in other work that they fail to respond to patrons needing assistance.
Reference staff will provide all patrons reference service that aims to enable the patron to participate fully in the access and use of resources offered, so far as is reasonably feasible. This includes patrons with disabilities, patrons on campus, and patrons off campus-all within the ODU community.
Reference staff will deal with problem patrons in a polite but firm manner. If a patron becomes abusive, appropriate action should be taken by calling Public Safety at 4700.
Reference staff will exercise judgment when questions are asked at the Reference Desk near the time the Reference Desk is to close. The patron may be asked to return in the evening or the next day, respectively, if it appears that the question will require lengthy research.
The primary purpose of Reference Desk telephone is for reference service. All other calls should be kept to a minimum. Library patrons should not use the Reference Desk telephone unless making a call on campus in pursuit of an academic need or in the event of an emergency.
(Refer also to Approachability and Responsiveness in .)
Librarians who provide reference service will communicate in a timely fashion any appropriate information directly related to the reference function.
All librarians who provide reference service are responsible for creating and sharing research assignment alerts according to the procedures agreed upon by the Reference and Instruction Services Team (formerly the Reference Professional Development [RPD] Group), in which the reference staff members are encouraged to participate (details available in the RPD Group Meeting Minutes for December 15, 2005).
Continued professional development is essential to the provision of quality reference service. Hence librarians providing reference service will maintain an ongoing awareness of trends and developments related to reference librarianship, through opportunities such as follows:
- Attendance of Reference and Instruction Services Team (RIST) meetings
- Reading of relevant professional literature
- Continuous review of new reference titles
- Other professional opportunities as available
ODU librarians who provide reference service strive to attain a high level of competency in using the library's online catalog and databases, print materials in the library's Reference Collection, and a basic level of competency in utilizing other services to which the ODU Library has access. Reference staff members are also responsible for maintaining ongoing awareness of new developments within the ODU Library that may affect reference services (e.g., new policies, new equipment or software that may be used in reference service).
Reference staff members are encouraged to attend RIST meetings regularly in pursuit of the RIST charge: "Composed of all professional ODU librarians with reference and/or instructional responsibilities, RIST members identify and share with each other information about new and existing reference and instructional resources and services. RIST develops instructional initiatives and provides services to the ODU community to support research and advance information literacy. The team is coordinated by the Head of Library Reference and Instruction Services."
All reference queries are considered confidential, and the privacy rights of the patron will be respected. Except in a professional context in discussion with other library staff, librarians who provide reference service will not discuss patron reference encounters with others. (Refer also to Email Reference for further information on ethics of email reference service and patron privacy.)
All librarians providing reference service are involved in the recording of reference inquiries. Statistics and record keeping are essential in providing a factual base for review of reference service, staffing levels, and/or participation in professional surveys. Each librarian on reference duty is responsible for recording the appropriate statistics during his or her shift; each librarian responding to email requests, phone requests, or faculty research requests off the desk is responsible for entering those entries in the binder at the Reference Desk.
A set of reference/instruction statistics is gathered by Reference and Instruction Services and turned in to the Office Manager on a monthly basis. These statistics reflect number of reference queries daily, monthly, and cumulatively. Reference and Instruction Services is responsible for compiling the data. These statistics have been chosen because they are needed for yearly library surveys or university reports. The type of statistics tabulated should not be changed without the consent of the Director, Library Services.
The Head of Reference and Instruction Services will periodically evaluate the services provided. This may be done using various methods, such as with analysis of statistics gathered, user satisfaction surveys, the retaining of patron comments for the purposes of future evaluation, or with anecdotal evidence or surveys from the librarians who provide reference service.
Page last updated: 15 April 2013 | , Head, Library Reference & Instruction Services