Module 6: Library Policies

Know the policies of the library for doing reference work

Ethics and Library Policies

Does your library have a reference policy? Does it address professional ethics? Carefully examine the policies and procedures in your library (or ask) to learn specifics about professional ethics in providing reference service to your patrons.

All libraries that offer reference services should have a statement of objectives, a description of the types and levels of services offered, and guidelines to help personnel who provide this service. The reference service policy must also support the library’s mission statement and overall goals.

What is the Purpose of a Reference Policy?

The main reason for reference policies is to establish guidelines for providing the best possible service to all our patrons. Policies do the following:

  • Establish standards of service.
  • Assist in training new staff members.
  • Establish levels of service to users, including limits of service.
  • Establish priorities of service.
  • Describe practical procedures that answer practical questions.

[Janet Easley. Reference Services Review 13, Summer, 1985: p. 79-82.]

What Should be Included in a Reference Policy?

  • Statement of library’s mission
  • Mission of reference department
  • Purpose of reference guidelines
  • Reference staff
  • Library users
  • General guidelines for desk service
  • Specific desk service guidelines
  • Specific question guidelines
  • Online searching
  • Loan of reference materials

[Deborah Grodinsky, Illinois Libraries 73, November 1991, p. 513-14, suggests this basic outline.]

Virtual Reference Services Policy

The following pieces of information should be included in a virtual reference services policy.

  • Eligibility: How will you respond to people who live outside your jurisdiction?
  • Confidentiality: How long and for what purpose will you save transcripts of completed transactions? What will be done to ensure that your FAQ file will be rephrased enough so that it cannot be attributable to the person who asked the question?
  • Use of licensed databases to answer questions: What is the policy for answering questions from a database the library subscribes to? What is the policy about emailing or faxing an answer from a licensed database?
  • Identifying yourself to the client: Will you use your full name? The name of your library?
  • Delivery of material to the client: Will you fax or mail pages from a journal? Will you send books or other formats via the US Mail? Will you scan and email pages?
  • Average length of transaction: How long, on average, will you spend on a transaction? Is there a time limit?
  • Client satisfaction: What service behaviors will ensure client satisfaction? How will the client register a complaint?
  • Inappropriate client behavior: What constitutes inappropriate behavior or objectionable language?

[Lipow, Anne Grodzins, The Virtual Reference Librarian’s Handbook, Neal-Schuman, 2003, p. 77-89.]

Major Point: All libraries offering reference service should have a statement of objectives, a description of the types and levels of services offered, and guidelines to help personnel who provide this service.