Module 1: Tough Questions

Reference service isn’t easy, but it is challenging, fun, and rewarding.

What is Reference?

The goal of reference work is to meet patrons’ information needs. Reference work includes finding out what information people need and using library resources to provide that information. Libraries have many roles to play, but a library’s reference and information service is especially valuable to the community it serves because of the characteristics of library service.


  • Have a variety of information for everyone in the community, but work especially hard to meet individual needs.
  • Strive to provide equal, objective service for all patrons.
  • Promote the value of information for problem-solving in everyday life or for entertainment and enlightenment.
  • Reach out to people who have information needs, in the library, online, or to those who have not thought of using the library.
  • Take steps to assure that all who contact the library are made to feel welcome and at ease.

Virtual Reference:  The New Frontier?

Reaching out to the community to meet information needs with virtual reference methods is now a standard in libraries of all types across the nation. The methods may differ, but the goal remains the same: find and fulfill the information needs of the community.

Conducting effective reference interviews, using skill in selecting search strategies, and being knowledgeable about resources, both print and online, remain imperative for excellent reference service, no matter the venue. However, the method of delivery and the need to be skilled in appropriate and emerging technologies is constantly changing.

Major Point: Libraries serve the information needs of their communities.


  1. Does your library have a mission statement, general policy, or reference policy that describes reference service policies, procedures, goals, or mission?
  2. Does the reference policy discuss the value of reference service to your community? If not, ask staff members what they think is the value of reference service in your community.