Board Policy 110: Reference Service
  1. Purpose of the Reference Service Policy
    1. The Reference Service Policy provides written guidelines for reference service at Monterey Public Library. The policy establishes a standard for reference and information service of the highest possible quality consistent with available resources, and includes guidelines for responding to specific types of reference requests.

    2. It is impossible to anticipate every situation and question that will arise. Staff members are responsible for interpreting the Reference Service Policy and making judgments based on a commitment to provide excellent and consistent service to Library customers.

  2. Reference Service
    1. Reference service is direct staff assistance to customers in search of information, enlightenment, and recreation. Monterey Public Library is an important source of information for the community. Direct service to Library customers is the first priority of Youth, Reference and Bookmobile staff, except for emergency response. Circulation staff members provide limited information service and refer customers to the Youth and Reference Services desks. In this policy, “reference staff” refers to all staff members providing reference and information services.

    2. Reference service includes the following specific services:
      1. Brief information or materials from cited sources and/or guidance in locating additional materials to answer questions received in person, by telephone, by mail, by fax, or by email.

      2. Assistance in developing research strategies, selecting materials, and using Library resources and services, including the Library catalog and other electronic resources.

      3. Readers Advisory Service: Assistance in selecting reading, listening, and viewing materials based on individual needs, interests, and preferences.

      4. Bibliographic verification of titles in the Library’s catalog and other sources, holds for Monterey and Pacific Grove Public Library materials, and interlibrary loans.

      5. Referral of customers to other libraries, agencies, and organizations in pursuit of needed information or services.

      6. Orientation and assistance in the use of library resources and tools.

  3. Staff Responsibilities

    A high level of professional competence is expected of all reference staff. The most important factor in the delivery of accurate and complete reference service is the staff. Reference staff members will:

    1. Maintain a professional, approachable attitude at the service desks and in other public areas.

    2. Communicate with all customers courteously, fairly, and effectively.

    3. Maintain current knowledge of library print and non-print resources as well as referral and online resources which are available to meet customer needs.

    4. Keep aware of local, national, and international events and topics of interest to Library customers.

    5. Exercise professional judgment in interpreting and applying Library policies and procedures.

  4. Reference Interview
    1. Staff members will respond to all questions with respect, without judging the customer, the question, or reasons the customer may be asking the question. Responses will be unbiased and, when appropriate, include information on all sides of an issue.

    2. Equitable service will be provided to customers of all ages, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and abilities, and to non-cardholders as well as cardholders. Staff members will strive to provide equitable service to speakers of all languages.

    3. While respecting customers’ privacy, staff members will conduct reference interviews to clarify questions by defining terms, determining the level and scope of the information required, and broadening or narrowing the search.

    4. Monterey Public Library is committed to providing complete and accurate answers to customer questions. Staff members will assess customers’ familiarity with the library. Whenever possible, staff members will accompany customers to the requested material, determine if the material completely answers the question. When this is not possible, customers will always be encouraged to return to the desk if they do not locate the information they need.

  5. Priorities and Limitations
    1. In general, questions from customers in the Library are answered in the order received. However, staff members may take several requests and complete very brief questions first in order to provide the most efficient possible service to all waiting customers. Questions from customers in the Library are answered before telephone, voice mail, and electronic mail questions.

    2. Reference and Research Questions
      1. Ready reference questions requiring less than five minutes to complete will be answered for waiting customers in the shortest time possible. Sources will be cited for all answers.

      2. Extended reference questions requiring more than five minutes to complete will be answered after ready reference questions. Because the answer may be difficult to locate in standard sources, the question may have several parts, or specialized staff expertise may be necessary to locate the answer, staff members will usually complete a reference form for extended reference questions. Staff members will ask customers to specify a reasonable deadline for each extended reference question and will provide an answer or status report before this deadline whenever possible. Sources will be cited for all answers.

      3. Research assistance. Staff members will act as consultants on research projects requiring extensive information and/or analysis compiled from several sources. Staff members will assist customers in developing research strategies and identifying, selecting and using appropriate resources. This may include recommending books on subjects of local or curriculum interest. However, the library does not provide research services.

      4. In order to ensure equitable service, this policy provides specific limits for services when customers are waiting. When there are multiple requests from one customer, staff members may hold requests received after the first transaction each day and complete them after all other customers have been served.

  6. Telephone Reference Service
    1. Telephone reference service is an integral part of reference and information service. However, questions from customers in the Library are answered before telephone questions.

    2. Every effort will be made to answer ready reference telephone questions immediately. If this is not possible, customers may leave a number. Customers with research questions will be encouraged to visit the Library in person.
    3. All telephone customers will be called with an answer or status report within 2 hours or as agreed. To preserve the customer’s privacy, staff will generally not leave information in a message except by request.

    4. Depending on the demand for reference service, telephone service may be limited to 3 brief questions or 3 minutes of material read or summarized.

    5. Customers may request books or other materials on a general topic. While suggesting that a visit to the Library to choose materials might best serve the customers’ needs, staff may select appropriate materials and set them aside for customers to pick up by a specified date.

    6. Sources will be identified for all information provided over the telephone.

    7. Extreme care will be taken when providing medical, legal, and other specific types of information on the telephone. Guidelines for specific types of questions are provided in section 8.

  7. Mail, Fax and Electronic Mail
    1. Regular guidelines apply to questions received by mail or fax. Staff members will contact customers with an answer or status report within three working days. Information may be mailed or faxed to customers in accordance with the Policy on Document Delivery.

    2. Regular guidelines apply to questions received by electronic mail. Email questions will have the same priority as telephone questions. Depending on the demand for reference service, staff members may limit the amount of information entered in the reply to an email question. Staff members may copy relevant information from Internet or other electronic sources, offer mail or fax document delivery services, or refer customers to appropriate resources for the information they need.

  8. Reference Questions
    1. Appraisal. Reference staff members will help customers locate background information and price guides for antiques and collectibles. The library cannot provide appraisal services. Customers may be referred to appraisers.

    2. Consumer. Reference staff members will assist customers in locating product evaluations. Staff members will not endorse or recommend products, services, or vendors. Excerpts or ratings from identified product evaluations may be provided to telephone customers with a warning that information taken out of context may be incorrect, incomplete, or misleading.

    3. Contests. Contest questions are treated as regular reference questions to which normal guidelines apply.

    4. Examinations. The Library does not monitor or proctor examinations. Customers may be referred to area agencies offering this service.

    5. Genealogy. The Library provides general guides for genealogy research and a few primary genealogical sources, particularly on local residents. Staff members may refer customers to local genealogical resources and assist customers in requesting materials through interlibrary loan. Guidelines for local newspaper searches are provided in section 8.13.

    6. Homework. Homework and school assignment questions are treated as regular reference questions to which normal guidelines apply. Since learning to use the library is frequently a goal of school assignments, staff members will actively involve students in the reference process. Youth desk staff members will provide homework assistance in addition to answering information questions as time permits.

    7. Legal. Reference staff members will not offer legal advice nor interpret legal information. They will assist customers in locating appropriate statutes, regulations, interpretations, and other legal materials. Legal information provided over the telephone must be quoted verbatim from an identified source. Telephone customers will always be warned that information taken out of context may be incorrect, incomplete, or misleading. Customers may be referred to appropriate legal libraries.

    8. Local History. Local history questions are treated as regular reference questions to which normal guidelines apply. Reference staff members will provide specific information and assist customers in local history research. Customers may be encouraged to conduct their own research in the Library. Use of local history materials is governed by Policy 150: Access to the Local History Collection. Guidelines for local newspaper searches are provided in section 8.13.

    9. Mathematics. Reference staff members may provide formulas and other mathematical information from identified sources. Staff members will not perform calculations for customers. Answers may be provided from identified Internet sites which calculate unit conversions, currency exchange, and other mathematical results.

    10. Medical. Reference staff members will not offer medical advice nor interpret medical information. They will assist customers in locating appropriate medical information and materials. Medical information provided over the telephone will be quoted verbatim from an identified source. Telephone customers will always be warned that information taken out of context may be incorrect, incomplete, or misleading. Customers may be referred to appropriate medical libraries.

    11. Newspapers. Staff members will search local newspapers for obituaries or news articles when customers are unable to come to the Library and the required information cannot be located using clipping files or indices. Staff members will search no more than two weeks of newspapers each for no more than three specific obituaries, or no more than one week each for no more than three specific news articles in a single request.

    12. Patent/Trademark. The library does not offer patent or complete trademark searches. Staff members may provide general patent and trademark information and refer customers to the Sunnyvale Center for Innovation, Invention and Ideas. Trademark information may be provided from available print and electronic resources within established guidelines.

    13. Periodicals. Reference staff members will assist customers in using indices to locate periodical articles. Staff members may search indices in the course of answering reference questions, but they cannot search indices on demand or provide bibliographies.

    14. Tax. Tax questions are legal questions. Reference staff members will not offer tax advice nor interpret tax laws or regulations. They will assist customers in locating tax information and forms in federal and state publications and other sources. Customers may be referred to state and federal tax information services.

    15. Translations. The library does not provide translations. Short phrases may be translated based on available staff and sources. Customers may be referred to translation services.

  9. Confidentiality
    1. Library customers have the right to privacy regarding the materials and services they use.

    2. Staff members will not reveal the content of customer questions or research interests to anyone except other staff members working on the question. Answers will be given only to the customer asking the question or to persons he/she designates. Staff members will exercise extreme care when a customer’s manner or the content of a question suggests a particular need for privacy. When necessary, staff members will conduct Reference interviews so as to limit the possibility that other customers will overhear.

    3. Staff members will use identifying information about customers only as necessary to respond to Reference questions and provide other Library services.

    4. Staff members will not provide information about customer questions or research interests to law enforcement or other authorities without a court order and the approval of the Library Director. Staff members will follow Policy 525: Confidentiality of Library Circulation Records.

  10. Referrals
    1. Reference and Youth Services. Questions should be referred because the resources and staff expertise of the other division are likely to offer the most effective service, not because of the customer’s age alone. Youth Services and Reference Services staff members will usually consult on the best method of meeting the customer’s need. Reference and Youth Services staff will be familiar with Library collections and resources for all ages. The Reference and Youth Services Divisions will provide training opportunities for staff members from the other division.

    2. Extension Services. Within practical limitations, Bookmobile customers will receive the same level of Reference service as customers in the Library. Bookmobile staff members will provide reference service using Bookmobile resources, complete questions for Bookmobile customers using resources in the Library, and refer customers to the Youth and Reference Services desks.

    3. Circulation. Circulation staff members provide limited information service and assist customers in using the Library catalog. Circulation staff members will refer customers with reference questions to the Youth and Reference Services desks.

    4. MOBAC. Extended reference questions which cannot be answered using Library materials, electronic resources, or more appropriate referrals may be referred to MOBAC (the Monterey Bay Area Cooperative Library System) after all available Librarians have had the opportunity to suggest resources. Staff members will complete and submit MOBAC Subject Request forms following established procedures.

    5. Other Libraries or Agencies. Customers may be referred to other libraries or agencies for information, materials, or services. Before dispatching the customer, staff members will confirm which agencies are likely to be helpful.

  11. Electronic Reference Service
    1. Searches in remote resources available electronically will be conducted when staff members determine that this is the most effective way to locate needed information. Search services are not provided on demand; customers requesting searches may be referred to providers offering these services.

    2. Internet. Workstations with World Wide Web browsers and Telnet applications are available for reference use. Staff members will maintain bookmark files and pages of links for useful Internet sites. Free Internet resources may be used whenever the reference staff member determines that this is the most effective way to locate needed information.

      1. Information provided to customers should include the address for the site where the information was located and the name of the organization and/or individual maintaining the site and/or providing the information.

      2. Staff members will provide customers with brief information from the Internet free of charge to answer reference questions. Customers will generally be referred to public access Internet workstations to print more than three pages.

    3. Library Catalogs. Access to other libraries’ catalogs through Telnet and the World Wide Web is available at the Reference and Youth Desks. Staff members will search up to three additional library catalogs as time permits.

  12. Division Procedures
    1. Library divisions providing Reference service may develop procedures to implement this policy.

Approved: 10/28/98