Module 1: The Role of Public Service Staff

Public Service staff carry out the reference process.

Working with the Public

Staff perform the mediation required to find and fill real information needs. Reference staff also promote information literacy by teaching patrons to be skilled information seekers. Public service staff members work in reference, information services, adult or children’s services, or circulation. They are responsible for conducting library work with high regard for professional ethics and patron rights.

Discovering Needs

The public service staff talk to patrons, discover needs, and follow up to make sure those needs have been met. This is true for any type of library. Many different levels of staff work to support library service, but the public service staff are the ones who have direct contact with patrons. No other department has the same influence on the daily success of the library in meeting the information needs of patrons. Staff must achieve certain competencies to provide quality reference service.

The points here are based on RUSA’s elaboration of professional competencies.

Competencies and Guidelines for In-Person Reference Services

Professional competencies guidelines focus on the abilities, behaviors, knowledge, and skills required for quality reference service:

  1. Access: Analyzing and responding to needs for information services and understanding how services are designed and organized.
  2. Knowledge Base: Staying aware of, applying, and sharing new concepts in the library and information services field.
  3. Marketing and Awareness: Evaluating services, communicating about them to others.
  4. Collaboration: Maintaining positive relationships with users and colleagues, both within the library and beyond.
  5. Evaluation and Assessment of Resources and Services: Critically understanding user needs, information services trends, resources, methods of service delivery, common methods of access and interface, and knowledge of information service providers.

Competencies and Guidelines for Virtual Reference

The skills and behaviors that you will be learning apply to both in-house and remote reference. There are eight model behaviors for good reference transactions: approachability, interest, listening/inquiring, searching, and follow-up.  They are covered in Module 3. These behaviors can be categorized into three categories that reflect the differences and the similarities in providing reference services with a variety of services, chosen to match community needs and library capabilities:

  1. General guidelines for any reference interaction.
  2. In-person guidelines specific to face-to-face encounters.
  3. Remote guidelines for reference encounters by telephone, email, chat, etc., where traditional visual and nonverbal cues do not exist.

Major Point: Public service staff performance is critical in meeting a community’s information needs.


  1. Who is involved in reference service in your library? A whole department? A reference librarian? Anyone who’s available? Just you? Large or small, the reference service provided by the library is critical. Identify everyone at the library who provides reference service.

End of Module 1

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