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Reference Services Policy

Memorial Hall Library Mission Statement

Memorial Hall Library's mission is to be an exceptional and innovative public library for the Andover community. The library provides materials in a wide variety of formats, as well as the space, technology, programs, and staffing essential to providing 21st century public library service.

Mission of Reference Department

It is the mission of the Reference Department to effectively meet the goals of the library's mission statement by providing quality informational resources and services for our users. 

Reference service is provided by the Memorial Hall Library reference staff when the library is open. The Reference Desk will be staffed at all times by professionally trained librarians. The staff will provide the best service possible through the resources available and through collaboration with fellow staff members who have specialized knowledge and skills.

Purpose of Reference Policy

  • To describe the services and resources which are offered by the Reference Department.
  • To set standards and guidelines that ensure excellence in reference service.
  •  To provide a philosophical framework for staff that confirms the library's commitment to excellence in reference service.

Statement of Objectives

  • To provide reference service to all library users. To select, acquire, and organize sources of information, both traditional and electronic, to meet the changing needs of library users.
  • To select, acquire, and organize sources of information, both print and electronic, to meet the changing needs of library users.
  • To identify and promote the information needs of all users in the community.
  • To ensure that library users receive a consistently high level of service.
  • To identify a patron's specific informational needs through a reference interview and fill those needs by using the resources available.
  • To utilize the expertise of fellow staff librarians.
  • To provide instruction for the use of library resources.
  • To cooperate with other community agencies and organizations in their effort to serve the community.
  • To utilize the expertise of other agencies and organizations to obtain the best information to accurately answer questions.
  • To refer patrons to appropriate agencies or organizations when necessary.

Reference Collection Development

The emphasis of the reference collection has shifted from print to online sources. Databases and other electronic resources cover a more complete scope and have the advantage of more frequent updates. Print sources must be replaced when new editions with more current information. Also, currently people look to online sources for their information.

The shift to online resources follows the Libraryís community mission. Book shelves can be replaced with seating thus expanding the space for public use.

The Reference staff will read professional reviews of reference materials and make recommendations for purchase. The authorís competency, the currency of the material, and the source of the information are important considerations for selection. The Coordinator of Information Services makes the final decision on which materials are suitable for the reference collection.

  • All Reference Librarians will read the "Reference Book" section of Library Journal and make recommendations.
  • The Coordinator of Reference Services will read the "Reference Books Bulletin" in Booklist and make suggestions.
  • Databases will be selected to cover areas of patron interest including, but not restricted to, literature, foreign language, genealogy, biography, and periodicals. The same professional literature that reviews print materials review databases. Ideas for new databases also come from discussions with colleagues during professional committee meetings. When a database is of interest to the reference staff, a trial is requested from the vendor for further evaluation.
  • The Reference Department will maintain a list of Recommended Sites on the library web page for the public and to use when answering questions.
  • Materials will be weeded from the collection when the information is no longer the latest available on the subject, the print volume is in poor condition, or a database is purchased that covers the subject.

Reference Staff

Reference staff members serve as the link between resources and the patron. As such, it is important that staff members be:

  • Highly proficient in using both print and electronic resources.
  • Skilled in the technology needed to use electronic resources.
  • Knowledgeable about the town of Andover and its government.
  • Open and approachable, friendly and professional.
  • Able to communicate effectively with all library users.
  • Discreet in the handling of questions that might be confidential or sensitive.
  • Impartial in dealing with all patrons.
  • Able to exercise good judgment both in the interpretation of policy and in the handling of exceptional situations.
  • Able to instruct the public in the use of print and electronic resources.
  • Able to evaluate websites and use only those found to be authoritative.
  • Skilled in the interviewing process in order to aid patrons in formulating their specific questions.
  • Willing to seek continuing education opportunities, including workshops and conferences approved by the Library Director.
  • New staff members will receive an orientation to Memorial Hall Library and to the Reference Department.

Reference staff all have additional areas of responsibility besides answering questions and instructing patrons.

General Guidelines for Desk Service

Priorities

  • Service to the public receives priority over any other duties. Library users should be confident that the primary purpose of a reference librarian is to assist them.
  • The public is served on a first come, first serve basis. People calling the library are helped in sequence. Callers will be asked if they would like to wait, to call back, or to be called back before being put on hold. Patrons approaching the desk will be informed that they will be helped as soon as possible.
  • Reference staff is on-call during scheduled off desk time to assist at the reference desk when needed.

Recording

Statistics are gathered on a quarterly basis in January, March, June, and October.

Reporting Problems

If a patron is exhibiting inappropriate library behavior, or if a patron is hurt in the library, the name, telephone number, address, and a summary of the incident will be sent to the Assistant Director to be recorded in the incident log.

Incomplete Reference Transactions

Although every effort is made to complete questions immediately, some can remain at the end of a shift or day. Unfinished questions are turned over to incoming staff. A patron will be advised if more than one day is needed to complete the question or if the question has been referred to another source. Staff members will consult with colleagues if they need assistance with difficult questions.

Referrals to Other Libraries

If needed materials are located at another library, the staff member will verify that the resources are available for use. A call to have a book held at another library is appropriate.

Interlibrary Loan

Interlibrary Loan requests both for books and articles are submitted through the Memorial Hall Library web page. Information should be verified before placing a request.

Sources

To give the most accurate and authoritative answers possible, staff members will avoid personal opinions, philosophy, or evaluations; rather they will rely upon information based on accurate printed or electronic sources. The source of the answer will always be cited. The opinion of staff members, even if requested, will not be given as fact.

Instruction and Orientation Services

Instruction and orientation for services provided by the library are an integral part of library service. Patrons will be given basic instruction in using the library catalog, online databases, the Internet, and answer basic word processing and computer questions.

Formal tours are offered to school groups, organizations, and other libraries. 

Time Limits

The amount of time devoted to a question is at the discretion of the reference librarian.

Specific Reference Desk Service Guidelines

  • Reference transactions are information consultations in which reference staff recommend, interpret, evaluate, and use information resources to help others meet their particular information needs.
  • Reference interviewing techniques are utilized to determine the specific need of the patron.
  • Direct service provides the patron with the information requested, while instructional service is designed to teach the patron independent use of library resources. Reference service, whether direct or instructional, provides accurate and prompt information to the public.

In-Person Reference

  • Reference staff members will assist patrons at every level of the reference transaction, if the patron so desires.
    • This may require accompanying the patron to the computer catalog to explain its use, or physically locating the materials for the patron.
    • In the event that the staff member is unable to accompany the patron to the stacks area, it is important to remind the patron to check back with a reference librarian, if the material cannot be located.
  • If a patron has a lengthy or complex request and other patrons need assistance, it may be necessary to begin the search process and ask the patron to check back later, in order to be sure the patron finds the information needed. If the librarian is not able to find an answer, consultation with other colleagues is appropriate. Additional staff can be summoned to help when several people are waiting for assistance.

Telephone Reference

Telephone reference will be handled in the same sequence and manner as in-person inquiries.

  • Item checks will be done to confirm that titles are on the shelf. The books are held at the circulation desk.
  • If the desk is busy or if multiple titles are requested, staff will offer to call the patron back when the titles are found.
  • If the answer to the question seems too involved to relate easily over the telephone, the librarian may suggest that the patron come to the library.
  • Information may be faxed to a patron. A maximum of thirty pages is suggested, although left to the discretion of the librarian.
  • If a question is answered using a web site, the librarian can email the link to the patron, print the information and hold it at the Reference Desk, or send the print out through the mail.
  • When a staff member must transfer a call to another department, the caller will be told where the call is being transferred and why.

Electronic Reference -- Email, chat and text

Email Reference

The reference desk email, rdesk@mhl.org, is checked at least once per four-hour desk shift. If a question cannot be answered within that shift, the patron is notified of the delay and is given an expected time for the answer.

Chat and Text Reference

Reference questions that are received through chat or by text message and not answered live should be followed up within 24 hours.

Fax, Mail, Electronic Requests

It is the library's practice to respond to all reasonable reference inquiries received by mail, fax or electronically. If the question involves significant research, the reference librarian may suggest that the patron visit the library for further assistance.

Specific Reference Question Guidelines

School Assignments

  • Questions related to school assignments will be treated like any other request for reference assistance. Every effort will be made to satisfactorily answer a student's questions and provide the sources for information and the instruction needed to use those sources.
  • If a student has a printed school assignment, the librarian should ask permission to copy the assignment, and then pass the copy on to the teen librarians, who will develop a list of resources that answer the question.
  • Andover teachers are encouraged to use the "Just for Teachers" form on the teen web site to provide advanced notice for assignments and to schedule tours and visits.

Contest Questions

Contest questions will be approached with the same guidelines and time limits as any other type of reference question. The staff will not interpret contest rules.

Consumer Evaluations

Book, Antique and Art Appraisals

Patrons will be referred to appropriate reference sources, consultants, or experts. Staff members will never give a personal appraisal of the value of an object.

Genealogical and Local History Questions

  • Staff members will provide general assistance in genealogical research, and guidance in locating items in our Andover Room Collection.
  • Patrons may accompany staff to the Andover Room to choose resources, but may not remain in the room.
  • Identification is required for the use of materials from the Andover Room.
  • Staff members will not engage in actual genealogical research for patrons.
  • Staff members can refer patrons to online genealogy resources, including Heritage Quest, Ancestry Library Edition, Massachusetts History Online, American Ancestors, and our collection of genealogy CD-ROMs.
  • Help in locating materials may be requested from the Andover Room Librarian.
  • Genealogy searches will not be done over the telephone. Patrons calling long distance will be requested to mail or email their request to the Andover Room Librarian. Research will be limited to residence verification and locating of obituaries when the death date is provided. Referrals to Andover Historical Society will be given when appropriate.

Compilations and Extensive Research

Requests for and/or completion of lengthy research are not considered a traditional role of the public reference librarian. Patrons needing extensive bibliographies, lists, statistics, or research will be directed to the appropriate resources and offered as much assistance as staff time allows.

Medical, Legal and Tax Questions

The library does not provide advice in the areas of medicine, law, and taxes.

Medical Questions

  • Information from authoritative sources such as the CDC, Medlineplus, the Mayo Clinic, and WebMD will be used to find medical information for patrons. Brief information can be given over the telephone. Printouts of more extensive information can be mailed or emailed to patrons.

Legal Questions

  • Complicated legal searches will not be undertaken, nor will personal interpretations of legal matters be offered.
  • Referrals will be made to the State Trial Court Libraries.

Tax Forms

  • We stock basic Massachusetts and Federal tax forms. If patrons request a form that we do not stock, we will print the appropriate form and instructions from the IRS and Massachusetts Department of Revenue web site.
  • If more information is required, the patron will be given contact information for the IRS or to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

Loan of Reference Materials

  • Reference books may be checked out at the discretion of the reference librarian on duty.
  • No individual volumes of a set or heavily used title will be allowed to circulate.
  • Staff will verify that the patron has a valid library card in good standing.

Instructional Classes

Classes are offered by Memorial Hall Library staff on a one-on-one basis. To request a class patrons can fill out the online form on the library web site, or make a direct request at the Reference Desk.


Eleanor Sathan, Coordinator of Reference Services

Approved by the Memorial Hall Library Board of Trustees, October 2011

Last updated: October 01, 2012
URL: http://www.mhl.org/about/policies/reference.htm
Memorial Hall Library   2 N. Main Street   Andover, MA 01810    rdesk@mhl.org   p:978-623-8400   f:978-623-8407