or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Updating Library Policies

   September 8th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MacKay policiesI'm finally getting my library's updated policies online. We started revising them in April 2008, and the Trustees approved the new versions in April 2009, so I'm a bit behind.

Updating a Dreamweaver-based website is slow going, so I thought I'd share the new (footnoted) Reference policy here. The old policies are still online until I get all the new ones coded and published. Once that is done, our plan is to review them every three years (some of these hadn't been touched since 1999) to make sure they are up-to-date. I'm also trying to think of a better way to display them on our website - any ideas?

Reference Service Policy

The following guidelines should be used by Reference Department staff in providing answers and materials for ready-reference and general research questions taken in person, by telephone, by mail, or submitted electronically.

The primary role of the Reference Staff is to assist patrons with their information searches and to educate them in the location and use of all types of reference resources. While assistance will be provided, patrons should not expect Reference Staff to do their work for them. Staff should spend no more than 15 minutes assisting a patron before returning to the Reference Desk to be available to assist other patrons. Patrons are not permitted to purchase dedicated staff time for reference or research services; please see the Library's Gift and Donation Policy (4.3) for additional details.*

All reference transactions should be treated with confidentiality, and the patron's right to privacy must be ensured. All information requests should be discussed only in a professional manner.

Patrons of all ages will be provided correct answers or referrals to their reference requests as soon as possible. If an answer cannot be provided within twenty-four hours, the patron will be informed of the status of their request.

While priority is given to walk-in patrons, telephone and electronic requests will be answered as quickly as possible. If "same day" service cannot be provided, the patron will be informed.

Locating Materials and Resources
Whenever possible, answers will first be sought using the resources available within the Chelmsford Library, whether print or electronic. The Reference Staff will also use the resources available through the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC) and the Northeast Massachusetts Regional Library System (NMRLS). If an answer cannot be provided immediately using local resources, appropriate print or electronical materials will be requested or located on the patron's behalf.

Every effort will be made to provide patrons with a source for an answer, where appropriate. If a patron is unable to visit the Library, the staff should offer to mail, fax or email a copy of the material, or a bibliography of the resources used (reproduction and/or shipping costs may apply).

Loaning of Reference Materials
Reference material will not leave the building. Material in this area is considered to be important for ready access to patrons, or be irreplaceable local history items. Allowing References items to circulate defeats the purpose of having a separate section for reference use. Patrons are encouraged to photocopy if they need to have the printed material in hand.

Types of Questions
The Reference Staff strives to provide professional and complete answers to any type of question asked at the Reference Desk. In addition to general reference questions, the following types of questions receive special treatment:

  • Directory Information - Reference Staff will assist patrons searching for names, addresses, or other contact information in any publicly-available resource, including telephone books, city directories, and electronic resources. Reference staff will not provide personal information about other Library staff, nor information contained in their personnel files. Please contact Library Administration or the Town of Chelmsford Human Resources Department for personnel information.
  • Homework Assignments - The use of the Library for homework and research assignments is part of the educational process, and staff should strive to provide students with a positive library experience. Questions from students should be answered in the same manner as other informational requests, and additional time should be given to provide the student with informal bibliographical instruction and research techniques.**
  • Technology Questions - All Reference Staff will be proficient with the technology resources available within the library, and are responsible for assisting with electronic research resources and basic library computer and internet competencies. Technology questions beyond the scope of regular Library resources may be referred to the Head of Reference or the Library's technology administrator.
  • Medical/Legal/Financial Information - Medical, legal, tax and investing assistance is limited to directing patrons to Library resources and/or secondary referral sources such as local hospital libraries, law libraries, etc. Reference staff cannot, at any time, assist with the interpretation of medical, legal or financial information, or give patrons advice on these topics.
  • Trivia Questions - Trivia question should be considered in the same manner as other informational questions. In line with the Chelmsford Library's Public Service Policy (2.1), “The needs and requests of library patrons should always be taken seriously and treated with respect. Equal consideration should be given to all users in a non-judgmental environment.”


*I added this sentence to keep patrons from thinking they can "buy" reference staff time with gifts or donations, which also got included in the Gift and Donation Policy, so it would apply to all library staff

**I originally included a sentence saying that staff would focus on helping the student, and not anyone that might be accompanying them. The reason is that a lot of times, a parent brings their child in, but never lets the child speak or explain their assignment - the parents just wants to get as many books and possible and leave as quickly as possible. I'm not a parent so I can't criticize, but this bugs me to no end. However, the wording was awkward, and other department heads thought it sent a bad message, so it was cut.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Reference Question of the Week – 9/21/08

   September 27th, 2008 Brian Herzog

iPhone: The Missing Manual book coverI really don't like stereotyping patrons, or thinking that patrons who look a certain way will use only a certain type of information and stay away from others. But in this case, a patron breaking out of a stereotype made his reference question even funnier.

A guy in his late forties walked up to the desk. He was scruffy, wearing a flannel shirt and jeans with paint and putty smears, and looked very uncomfortable in the library. He more or less looked like a stereotypical construction worker, and lately when a skilled tradesmen comes in, he is coming to ask for help with writing a resume or with searching the internet for job ads.

So this is what I was expecting, but this guy showed me how wrong I am to stereotype:

Patron: I just bought an iPhone, and the guy at the Apple Store said that I should come here to get the manual.
Me: Oh... Well, we have books about the iPhone, but not the actual manual. Maybe we can download it from their website - so you didn't get any manual in the box?
Patron: Yeah, it came with one, but the Apple guy told me that the best one that could be included is always missing, and I should get it at the library.

Ah. When he said "missing," it dawned on me what the guy at the Apple Store told him about: iPhone: The Missing Manual.

I took the patron over to the 004's and showed him the book. He looked at it skeptically, and said "this is a book; I want the manual the Apple Guy was talking about."

I tried to reassure him that I was 99% positive this is what the salesman sent him to the library for; we don't have product manuals, this one is called "the missing manual," and I even pointed to the "The book that should have been in the box" slogan on the cover. The patron flipped through the pages, and eventually said, "well, even if this is the wrong thing, it looks like it'll show me how to use it."

After he seemed comfortable, we started walking back out towards the Reference Desk. Just then another patron, dressed exactly in exactly the same stereotypical way as the first, walked up to him. As they walked away from me up the stairs, I could overhear their conversation:

Patron 2: Did you find that book? It ain't going to help - you can barely dial a phone, let alone use a computer.
Patron 1: Shut up - with this thing, I won't need a computer. It does it all for me.

Perhaps in addition to our basic computer classes, we need to start a series on iPhones, iPods, and other new devices. Then again, teaching a beginner how to sign up for an email account is one thing; teaching a beginner how to use an iPhone might be more than one hour-long session.

Tags: , , , , , , ,