Reference Service (Policy)
The reference staff at Fauquier County Public Library endeavors to provide accurate information and materials in response to requests from library users in an efficient, courteous, and timely manner. To ensure that quality service is provided, only staff trained in providing reference service will work at the reference desk. Questions are generally answered in the order received, with priority given to questions asked by patrons in the library.
Services available through the reference desk include responses to information requests (answers to specific questions, call number and holding of a specific book, recommendations on subject materials); instruction on the use of the library and library materials (indexes, online services, catalog, reference tools); bibliographic verification of items requested (title, author, publisher, ISBN, price); reader’s advisory (suggestions on books to read, videos to view, recordings to hear); referral to community services; and assistance in locating materials.
Before responding to a reference request, staff must understand the question completely. When answering specific questions, staff will always cite the source of the answer. Personal beliefs, opinions, and experience are generally not acceptable sources of answers to reference questions but, if given, will be appropriately identified. Staff will accompany the patron to find the material requested if available in the library and confirm that the information meets the patron’s need.
Telephone reference service is usually limited to supplying readily available information that does not require extensive research and that can be accurately imparted over the telephone. Extensive research that requires selection of appropriate materials, interpretation of data and sources, or analysis of information is best performed by the patron. Detailed information, especially that which is subject to analysis or interpretation, will not be relayed over the telephone. Samples of available materials can be gathered and held for patron pick-up.
Telephone reference questions that can be answered quickly (two or three minutes) without affecting service to patrons in the library may be handled immediately. Questions that require more time to answer, or that are received while other patrons are waiting in the library, will be handled as callbacks. All callbacks will be cleared by the end of the day or the patron will be notified of any delay. Privacy will be considered when leaving messages on answering machines or with another household member.
Reference staff will respond to written requests for information as time and activity levels permit. E-mail reference questions are checked by reference staff regularly and will generally receive a response within 3 business days. Branches receiving written requests outside the scope of their collection should forward requests to the central library. For answers requiring photocopies, patrons will be charged the current photocopy rate. Postage costs may be passed on to the patron.
Additional care and caution must be exercised when providing legal, medical, or consumer information. To avoid misunderstandings, it is preferred that patrons visit the library to review this type of information, rather than receiving the information over the telephone. Reference staff will provide definitions, quote material verbatim, and direct patrons to information sources. Staff will not offer advice or opinions, condense or abstract information, or suggest a course of action or diagnosis. Staff will provide the source and copyright date for legal and medical information.
All requests for reference information are confidential. Reference staff may consult with each other when necessary to serve the patron or consult with staff at other libraries, agencies, and organizations. Questions are tallied for statistical purposes and may be compiled to assist in staff training. In all cases, patron confidentiality and privacy will be maintained.
Revised: 10/21/99, 6/21/01, 9/23/10