The purpose of the Reference Service Policy Statement is to provide general guidelines for the provision of reference services of the highest possible quality and to provide a basis for its implementation.
The library collects, organizes, disseminates, and facilitates access to information related to the intellectual and academic needs of the College community. The Library's services and educational programs promote information literacy and develop research skills. The Library's primary goal is to meet the curricular needs of undergraduate and graduate students. The Library uses both traditional means and new technologies to implement its programs and services, and to access and deliver information from all available sources.
Reference librarians will provide direct and personal reference service in support of the academic programs offered by the College, and will assure that users are directed to materials and resources that meet their information needs. Reference service includes helping individuals to do the following: clarify their information needs; identify sources where appropriate information can be found; and acquire information needed. Information may be located in the library or elsewhere; the ability to provide good reference service therefore requires knowledge not only of Memorial Library's resources and how to access them, but also of outside sources and how to access them.
The Reference Staff includes Reference Librarians and Library Reference Assistants. Reference librarians are generally full-time members of the Library Faculty, but when funding allows, additional adjunct reference librarians are sometimes hired on a temporary and/or part-time basis. Reference librarians are trained professionals who hold master's degrees in library science or equivalent from an ALA-accredited graduate school. This document generally outlines the responsibilities of Reference Librarians.
Library Reference Assistants are part-time student assistants who provide a support role through provision of assistance to librarians on duty at the reference desk.
The library will maintain an up-to-date, relevant, and accessible collection of reference materials, including both traditional print materials and electronic resources. The in-house Reference Collection includes resources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, statistical sources, periodical abstracts and indexes, and other primary sources and finding tools commonly regarded as "reference tools". These reference tools are increasingly available in electronic formats, which will be made available whenever ease of use, cost, and accessibility permit.
The in-house Reference Collection is supplemented by external resources such as electronic databases available from commercial vendors and library agencies, online catalogs of other libraries, resources available through interlibrary loan, and other sources available through the Internet and other networks. Judgments about whether to purchase materials for in-house use or to rely on remote access are based on such factors as available resources, purchase cost, anticipated use, currency, and ease of use. Refer to the Collection Development Policy for further explanation. Reference bibliographers are responsible for evaluating reference materials and resources, and for recommending which should be acquired and which should be made accessible through external sources. The Librarian(s) in charge of Reference works with the bibliographers to evaluate and select materials and resources.
The Ready Reference Collection, located at the reference desk, consists of materials that need to be consulted on a frequent and regular basis. The Librarian(s) in charge of Reference, in consultation with the reference bibliographers, selects materials for placement in the Ready Reference Collection.
Reference materials in high demand for a specific class or classes may be temporarily transferred to special reserve at the reference desk, or may be placed on regular reserve, when such a transfer will not negatively affect general use of the reference collection. Approval of the Librarian(s) in charge of Reference and the appropriate subject bibliographer(s) is necessary for the transfer.
Reference materials are generally non-circulating. Exceptions may be made depending on the nature of the materials, the projected need, and the prospective period of circulation. The Librarian(s) in charge of Reference or the reference librarian on duty may give permission for reference materials to circulate.
Reference librarians will provide general information concerning the library's resources, collections, and services, as well as specific aid in clarifying queries and locating information. They assist users in finding information and in learning how to locate information on their own. Reference librarians do not actually conduct personal research for users.
The reference librarian may find it necessary or advisable to refer users to other collections, services, or sources of information within or external to the library.
Reference librarians will aim to provide "full" reference service to library users. Full service includes the following:
The Reference Librarian will not conclude the reference encounter without providing either some information relevant to the query OR the guidance necessary for the user's continued pursuit of information (including, if appropriate, instruction in the use of library resources).
Since librarians on reference duty must balance the needs of all users seeking assistance, they must exercise judgment in fulfilling the aim of full reference services in specific circumstances, taking into account such factors as the user's needs, the number of other users simultaneously seeking assistance, the availability of reference assistants, time constraints, and the librarian's own level of expertise. In all cases, a reasonable effort will be made to respond in a way satisfactory to the user. When time constraints intervene, the librarian may arrange to meet with the user outside the reference desk schedule or agree to find the information at a more convenient time and report back to the user. When a query requires in-depth assistance beyond the librarian's level of expertise, the user may be referred to another librarian more knowledgeable in the specific subject area.
Reference librarians are not obligated to interpret the intellectual content of the information found in library resources.
All reference queries of any kind are considered confidential, and the privacy rights of the user will be respected. Except in a professional context, there will be no discussion of user's needs with others. All library users will be treated equally in this regard.
While on duty at the reference desk, librarians will give priority to activities involving direct service to individual users, as outlined below. The librarian on reference duty at night or on weekends may also be in charge of overall building operations; thus, building emergencies or other urgent situations may of necessity occasionally take priority over reference service. The librarian on duty is also responsible for monitoring and directing the activities of any reference assistants on duty.
Responding to telephone calls receives a lower priority than responding to users in the reference area. Generally, the reference librarian will provide only brief responses on the telephone, and usually will give no more than three serial or catalog verifications for an individual telephone user. When the reference area is busy, the librarian answering a telephone query should do one or more of the following as appropriate to the circumstances:
E-mail is an encouraged means of answering faculty and student information needs. Many statistical and bibliographic questions, search strategies for on-line searching, etc can be answered quickly and efficiently by computer. Personal on-site interaction between librarian and users – allowing for dialogue between user and materials – remains, however, the preferred mode for answering most reference questions.
Using professional judgment, it may be appropriate to:
The Librarian(s) in charge of Reference will regularly check mail. Questions will be answered by the Librarian(s) in charge of Reference or the appropriate subject bibliographer.
SUNY Cortland faculty and students, other SUNY units, Cortland city residents, and residents of Cortland, Tompkins, Onondaga, Madison, Chenango, Broome, Tioga, and Cayuga Counties who are at least 16 years old are invited to use this service.
firstname.lastname@example.org is the appropriate address for E-mail questions. The Librarian(s) in charge of Reference will establish a system to record the following information regarding this address:
The Librarian(s) in charge of Reference will periodically evaluate the service, including user satisfaction. E-mail users will be requested to indicate satisfaction with content, helpfulness, response time, etc.
Although SUNY Cortland faculty, students, and staff are the library's primary user group, Cortland community and other non-SUNY Cortland users may use the library's collections and services, as stated in general library policy. In the case of unusually time-consuming inquiries, or at times when the reference area is busy, the librarian may ask the user's affiliation, and may give priority to SUNY Cortland users. Generally, however, no distinction should be made, especially when the library has unique resources in staff and material which meet the information needs of the user. The library's agreement with the Federal Library Depository Program requires that reference service be provided to all library users seeking information about or assistance in using government documents.
All librarians will be involved periodically in the collection of statistics and records of reference inquiries. Statistics and record keeping are essential in providing a factual base for review of reference service, staffing levels, and/or government-required statistical counts.
Periodic evaluation of reference services will be conducted under direction of the Librarian(s) in charge of Reference. Evaluations will measure and examine the quality of reference service, success of users in finding needed information, and/or user satisfaction. Data gathered through the evaluation process may also be used to analyze staffing levels and determine where improvements can be made.
Approved and accepted by Library Faculty, Memorial Library
February 19, 2002