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Reference and Information Service

Office of the Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services:
Public Services Policy Memo 2:
Reference and Information Service


The reference and information service program of the Rutgers University Libraries is designed to support the instructional, research, and service missions of the university. The following guidelines are used to describe and implement the various service programs provided in each library.


Service Definitions

Information Service - Basic/general information can be provided by librarians, staff, or trained student assistants - in person, by telephone, and by email either sent to individual librarians or staff or received through Ask a Librarian. Information can also be conveyed through signage, through printed or online finding aids and guides, and such electronic resources as the Library Catalog, online indexes and other basic reference tools, and the Libraries' Web pages. Information services addresses the more routine information needs of patrons, including:

  • Library holdings and bibliographic citations
  • Library policies (e.g., Admission to the libraries, borrowing, interlibrary loan)
  • Library hours/directions
  • Ready reference (e.g., Brief definitions, brief statistical data, other concise factual information)

Reference Service - Reference service is provided by all the Rutgers libraries. Professional librarians provide the most in-depth service; highly trained staff or graduate assistants under the supervision of professional librarians may provide other levels of service. Reference service may take place at the reference desk, in private consultations with reference specialists, by telephone, by correspondence, by email either to individual librarians or staff or through Ask a Librarian, or by instant messaging, text messaging, or other information delivery options.

Reference librarians are also involved in the development and implementation of printed and online finding aids and research guides, the selection and implementation of automated reference systems, services, and user interfaces designed to support independent research and end-user searching.

Since the Rutgers University Libraries are part of an educational institution, reference service is often appropriately instructional in nature, fostering the user's information literacy and self- sufficiency by instruction in the methods of research, the tools of research (both printed and electronic), and the ability to evaluate the quality and relevance of the research material retrieved. Reference Service includes instruction in the use of bibliographic sources, assistance in developing research strategies, assistance in locating complex data, the retrieval of data through electronic means, etc.

At other times, especially in the smaller and more specialized of the Rutgers Libraries, or in cases involving users with special needs, reference service might more appropriately take the form of providing factual answers or retrieving and packaging bibliographic or statistical data. In many instances, reference assistance involves the use of electronic resources available on either networked or standalone workstations.

The mission of the library, the needs of the user, and the professional judgment of the reference librarian will usually determine the appropriate level of service.


Whom We Serve, and Why

The primary community served by the Rutgers University Libraries consists of current faculty, faculty emeritus, students, staff, and administrators of Rutgers University.

The Libraries' reference and information services are available to all individuals on site, by telephone, by correspondence, and through online services including Ask a Librarian (email), Ask a Librarian Live (Instant Messaging), text messaging, and other electronic forums as available.

The Libraries may engage in mutually beneficial contractual arrangements. These include referral services for the New Jersey Library Network, METRO libraries, OCLC, and the Research Libraries Group. These reciprocal arrangements provide the needed services for Rutgers users who cannot have their needs met within the Rutgers libraries. The Libraries also provide services to certain university affiliates. See Public Services Policy Memo 6: Cooperative Arrangements, for details.

Reference service provided by a Rutgers library as a professional courtesy to outside users (other librarians, independent researchers, etc.) does not take the place of services provided by their primary library - whether school, public, academic, or special. In many instances, it will be appropriate to ascertain that outside users have already exhausted the resources of those libraries, or to refer such users to other appropriate libraries, especially when we do not have the specialized resources needed or the professional expertise to handle their queries.


Service Limitations

Electronic Service - This service, email or text messages sent to individual librarians or staff, queries received through Ask a Librarian, or queries submitted to Ask a Librarian LIVE, is intended primarily for the faculty, students, and staff of Rutgers University. We will answer inquiries from non-affiliated users concerning the university, the collections, resources, and services of the Libraries or relating in some way to New Jersey. Other kinds of questions from non-primary users will be dealt with as time and staff permit. For questions submitted to the email Ask a Librarian service a response will usually be sent within twenty-four hours, except on weekends and holidays.

Telephone Service - Information or reference assistance given by telephone will generally be quite brief. Users in need of more extensive assistance may be advised to visit the library or referred to a subject specialist.

More extensive telephone service will be provided to other Rutgers Libraries, other institutions, and, when possible, to Rutgers faculty and students. In most such instances, these users will be advised that librarians will call back with the desired information, as instant responses will not normally be feasible.

Licensing - There will be instances in which licensing agreements or other contractual restrictions preclude offering the same level of service to non-Rutgers users. In such instances, appropriate reference service might consist of a referral to a library able and willing to provide the desired service.

Legal, Medical, or Pharmaceutical Advice - The Libraries cannot provide legal, medical, or pharmaceutical advice in response to reference queries. Specific information may be read from manuals, but in most circumstances users will be referred to sources of information from which to draw conclusions.

Commercial Products and/or Services - The Libraries will not provide recommendations on commercial products and/or services in response to queries but will refer users to sources of information on these topics.

Liability - The Libraries assume no liability for any misinformation and/or interpretations drawn from sources cited in response to queries.


How Service is Provided

Code of Ethics - All information transactions between library staff and users, regardless of whether they take place at a formal service point or in some other context, will be governed by the standards articulated in the American Library Association's Code of Ethics. A copy of the Code is attached as Appendix 1.

Equity of Service - Library staff will provide information service to all users without discrimination based on race, creed, gender, sexual preference, disability, age, ethnicity, English language proficiency, or Rutgers affiliation.

Professional Conduct - All information transactions will be conducted with professional courtesy, respect, and confidentiality.

Instruction and Referral - Librarians will attempt to provide complete, accurate, and timely information in response to all questions. In many cases, however, an "answer" will take the form of instruction in the use of research materials. In other cases, because of the scope of the Rutgers collections or because of a user's primary affiliation with another institution, an "answer" might take the form of a specific referral to another institution.

Reference Interviews - Librarians will conduct reference interviews using the most effective proven techniques, including open-ended, neutral questioning. Library staff will refrain from making overt judgments about the merit, relevance, or value of questions posed by users.

Librarian Competencies - All librarians providing reference service will attempt to adhere to the highest standards of knowledge and proficiency. All public service librarians must have knowledge of the following:

  • The reference resources available at Rutgers
  • Library collection scope (local and systemwide)
  • the Library Catalog and other networked electronic resources
  • Major bibliographic networks Libraries' website
  • Local services and expertise and where to refer effectively within the Libraries systemwide
  • Regional and national resources, especially in their areas of expertise
  • Library and university policies
  • Newly emerging technologies
  • Development and Training - Professional development is the ongoing responsibility of all librarians to maintain current skills, develop new skills, and to implement the information services needed in a constantly changing environment. To support this development the Rutgers University Libraries will provide in-service training for librarians, encourage and support attendance at other professional programs, and provide the appropriate equipment suitable for service at the highest level.

The Libraries will continue to provide, on a systemwide basis, workshops and other formal programs designed to help librarians keep abreast of new technologies and other advances and to maintain traditional skills at a high level. Such programs should include both in-house and external experts.

Individual units will continue to provide local workshops and programs targeted to the needs of local librarians and their immediate constituencies.

All libraries will continue to foster an atmosphere of cordiality and collegiality that encourages colleagues to share their expertise with one another on a formal and informal basis.

Participation in formal and informal educational programs is recognized as a key part of scholarly development.

Recruitment - In every recruitment process for public services positions, the Libraries are committed to seeking a candidate with the requisite expertise and a commitment to reference and information services.

Approved by Public Services Council: April 27, 2000, rev. September 27, 2001 rev. June 19, 2006
Approved by Cabinet: June 13, 2000, rev. October 9, 2001, June 20, 2006
Last Revised by the User Services Council in August 2010


Appendix 1

Code of Ethics of the American Library Association

As members of the American Library Association, we recognize the importance of codifying and making known to the profession and to the general public the ethical principles that guide the work of librarians, other professionals providing information services, library trustees and library staffs.

Ethical dilemmas occur when values are in conflict. The American Library Association Code of Ethics states the values to which we are committed, and embodies the ethical responsibilities of the profession in this changing information environment.

We significantly influence or control the selection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information. In a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.

The principles of this Code are expressed in broad statements to guide ethical decision making. These statements provide a framework; they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations.

  1. We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.
  2. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
  3. We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.
  4. We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.
  5. We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.
  6. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.
  7. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.
  8. We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

Appendix 2

American Library Association. Reference and User Services Association. Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers (June 2004)