Jack Jones painting of the Peabody Institute Library, Danvers
  Home  |   Site Index  |   Information Services
  Information Services  ~  
Reference Mission, Philosophy, & Guidelines

Reference Mission, Philosophy & Guidelines


The Reference and Information Services Department of the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers is committed to providing the highest level of professional service to every member of the Danvers community and to the broader community of patrons that may seek our assistance. Reference and information services that we provide are based upon principles of access, equity, professionalism, citizenship and respect.


This document outlines the framework within which Department personnel operate:
  1. Access is the right of every individual to make use of current accurate information in every subject and across a range of media. The Department acquires and maintains print collections and electronic databases that make the broad world of information resources available to our patrons. We are committed to careful selection of new additions to the collection based upon criteria of currency, accuracy, usability and need. The principle of access also requires that we instruct and assist patrons in the use of this wide array of resources in order that they may become efficient, independent users of information.
  2. The Department is committed to the equitable treatment of both patrons and ideas. We adopt an unbiased, impartial attitude towards the great diversity of information through which we, as librarians, help our patrons navigate. We strive to connect patrons with the materials that best serve their stated requests regardless of personal prejudice and preferences.
  3. The Department adheres to the highest standards of our profession as codified in the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics. All patrons are treated with courtesy and respect and may expect accurate, up-to-date and complete responses to information requests. When resources beyond the scope of the Peabody Institute Library are required, librarians will make whatever referrals necessary to assist the patron in meeting their information need.
  4. The library is a vital democratic institution that empowers and expands the horizons of its patrons. The Department offers critical support in citizenship efforts, whether assisting new Americans seeking permanent residency or citizens interested in exercising rights and privileges afforded them by law. By example and by virtue of our expertise, we seek to instill an appreciation of the library in this critical role.
  5. Mutual respect between patron and librarian underlies this philosophy of service. The Department respects and upholds the patrons’ right to privacy and to access information.

Reference Procedures and Guidelines for Desk Service

For the purpose of this policy and procedural statement, reference and information services include not only those offered by the Reference Department, but by every library department providing such services to the public.

Priorities of Service

  • The primary role of the reference staff is to assist library users. Service to the public receives priority over any other tasks or duties.
  • Professional Librarians are on-call during scheduled off desk time to assist library users, paraprofessionals and other staff with reference and other information questions.
  • The public is served on a first-come first serve basis. Telephone inquiries will be helped in sequence but will not take priority over in-house information requests. If it is busy, callers will be asked if they wish to wait, call back or have their call returned before being placed on hold. Patrons approaching the desk will be informed that they will be helped as soon as possible.
  • Professional Librarians should regularly check the email reference mailbox during their workday. Paraprofessionals who speak to the Head of Reference and Information Services may also include this in their list of assigned duties.

Internet Use Policy

The Internet and Workstation Use Policy, adopted by the Trustees, October 2006 , is hereby incorporated by reference into these policies and procedures.


Reference staff must be respectful and discreet in the handling of sensitive inquiries including but not limited to medical and legal questions. The provision of information is to be kept in confidence, discussed only in a professional context and must not be repeated.

Service Guidelines

Courtesy and Interest:
Reference Department staff members should take a proactive approach when offering service to patrons. This includes but is not limited to leaving the desk to approach a patron who appears to need assistance as well as prompt service response to telephone, email and fax information queries as outlined in the priorities of service section of this document.
All patrons seeking help at the Information Desk will be treated with respect and courtesy and greeted with a smile. During the course of the reference interview the library staff member will make eye contact with the patron, try to put the patron at ease and indicate interest in the patron's request.
If the patron's question deals with a sensitive topic the library staff member should conduct the reference interview in a sensitive manner using a quiet tone of voice or moving to a more quiet location if possible.
If it is necessary to leave the patron temporarily while searching for materials, inform the patron of this fact so that he will not feel abandoned.

Reference Interview:
The reference interview shall be conducted in accordance with the Model Reference Behaviors Checklist and in such a manner as to draw out as much information from the patron as is necessary to answer the request accurately and fully. If the patron's question is a broad, general one, the librarian should skillfully question him to learn exactly what the patron is seeking. Conversely, if the question is exceedingly specific, the library staff member may attempt to negotiate to a broader level in order to obtain the necessary information for the patron. During the course of the reference interview the library staff member should paraphrase, summarize, and verify the question to make sure the patron and the library staff member have the same understanding of the question.
Points to be covered in the reference interview include whether there is a deadline and the level of information required (basic or technical).
If instructions are given to the patron they should be simple, explicit and not relayed in library jargon. The library staff member should accompany the patron when searching for sources and not simply direct him to an area. When this is not possible, staff should encourage users to return to the desk if they did not find materials.
Each reference encounter should be regarded as an opportunity for instruction. Library staff provides instruction, as needed, in the use of library resources when users are researching a topic or when they express interest in learning library research methods. More extensive individual instruction with a professional librarian may be arranged by appointment.
Patrons should not be required to learn how to use reference tools if they are seeking an answer to a simple ready reference question. Conversely, patrons must recognize that staff is available to assist them, not to complete the research itself.
The staff members should cite the source of all answers.

Questions Not Answered:
Staff do not interpret statistical, medical, tax or legal information either over the phone, by email, fax, and correspondence or in person. Staff provide factual information and limit suggestions to the search strategy, information resources available and not the subject or content of the request.

Leaving the Reference Desk:
If it is necessary to leave the public service area for more than five minutes, a trained staff member should be asked to cover the Reference Desk . If a trained staff person is not available, the Circulation Desk should be informed. In the event of phone calls while the Reference Desk is vacant, the patron’s name and phone number should be recorded so that he/she may be called back.

Low-Use Periods:
During low-use periods, staff members on desk duty may work on other assignments, examine new reference materials or read professional or subject related literature, as long as these activities do not interfere with the provision of desk service. Staff must not become so engrossed in other work that they fail to see users in need of assistance or appear to be “too busy” to be interrupted by a user’s questions.

Opening/Closing Procedures

Before the library’s opening, Reference staff should insure that:
  • All computer workstations, including Reference, Homework Center and Business Resource Center are turned on and ready for the first available patron.
  • All four printers are turned on and contain adequate paper supply.
  • There is adequate scrap paper available for patrons-may be found in Reference closet.
  • Catalog station on the third floor is on.
  • A “sweep” of the Reference floor is done to collect any stray materials and to further tidy up the 2nd floor area. Stray Reference materials should be reshelved.
  • A daily statistics sheet and day’s schedule are in place.
  • Copier is turned on.
  • 15 to 20 minutes prior to closing, it is the responsibility of the Reference staff member on duty to inform patrons in the reference area about the library’s closure. Patrons will then have time to check out materials. In addition, staff is asked to complete the following:
  • Conduct walkthrough of entire Reference floor, including BRC, HWC and Career/College and collect stray materials. Place stray books on respective shelving carts in library.
  • Reshelve stray REFERENCE books.
  • Replace chairs and moved furniture (HWC especially)
  • Clear away stray paper and refuse from computer tables and carrels.
  • Turn off copier and lamps at reference desk.
  • Turn off microfilm readers and replace cover on Fuji machine
  • Check restrooms and entire floor for patrons
  • Discard old schedule
  • File and replace Reference Statistics Worksheet
  • Neaten up reference desk area and book displays if any.
  • Computers:
    1. Turn off all computer monitors.
    2. Turn off all printers (replace paper if needed)
    3. Place time card and cell phone notices on public workstation keyboards.
  • 3rd floor:
    1. Check 3rd floor for patrons
    2. Turn off monitor of 3rd floor catalog station
    3. Place stray books on 3rd floor shelving cart

Reserves and Interlibrary Loan

Reference staff members should look up needed information in the NOBLE web catalog to determine if an item is owned, and, if the status is “on shelf”, whether it is actually on shelf in the building. If it is owned by another NOBLE library, “placing holds” procedures should be followed. Reference staff members should offer to obtain requested material through interlibrary loan after determining it is not available in the NOBLE web catalog.

Verifying requests for articles is a responsibility of the reference staff prior to submitting the request to the Interlibrary Loan Librarian. This includes using available so-called “A to Z” lists to determine if an article is available full text in one of the Library’s databases and making sure the request submitted to the ILL librarian is as complete as possible (includes ISSN, vol., no., date, title of article, names of authors and title of periodical).

Books & Articles:
Before writing up the interlibrary loan request, the staff person should inquire of the patron:
  • Is there a deadline for the request?
  • Is the patron looking for a particular? (author/title request)
  • Is the patron willing to accept a substitute? (author/title request) edition?
  • Is the patron willing to use the item in the library only?
This policy incorporates the Interlibrary Loan policies and procedures, which are as follows:
  1. Material not available at the Peabody Institute Library or at other NOBLE libraries may be requested at the Reference Desk.
  2. Interlibrary Loan service is available to any patron, regardless of residence in the absence of a Trustee decision not to honor a community’s citizens’ requests for reciprocal library services. However, patrons must be in good standing to receive full “out of network” Interlibrary Loan privileges. Delinquencies should be cleared prior to requesting items out of network. Any patron not in good standing may be blocked from using these services or may be restricted to in-library use of materials borrowed.
  3. Requests can take anywhere from one day for items delivered electronically or by fax to several weeks or longer for others. All efforts will be made to locate an item within the Commonwealth; otherwise, items will be located using OCLC WorldCat, a nationwide network of public, academic & special libraries.
  4. Current bestsellers and feature films in any format will not be requested through Interlibrary Loan. Sound recordings, including audio books, are requested within the Commonwealth only.
  5. Non-NOBLE Interlibrary Loans are processed in the Reference Department.
  6. In addition to any service charges, the patron is responsible for any computer printing charges for the item received.
  7. The patron is responsible for any overdue charges assessed by the lending library as well as replacement cost in the event an item is lost, damaged or misplaced.
  8. The Peabody Institute Library is not responsible for the failure of another library to provide material in a timely fashion.
  9. Copyright limitations affecting interlibrary loan are as follows: Each library is limited to five article requests from a periodical title during any calendar year. This does not include articles more than five years old.
  10. Due to the cost of obtaining an item through interlibrary loan (approximately $25 per item) and to allow patrons of the lending library to use their own materials, items requested outside of the NOBLE network may only be requested twice. Second requests will not be accepted until two weeks following the return of the item. This policy does not apply to Virtual Catalog requests.
  11. Interlibrary loan materials circulate for three weeks with no renewals.
  12. A lending library may recall (request that an item be returned to their library prior to the due date) an interlibrary loan item at any time. If an interlibrary item is recalled the patron must return the item as soon as possible.
Materials obtained through ILL or other Reference Service:
All materials obtained through ILL or other Reference Service are held at the Main Desk for the patron . If a patron has requested an article that will be acquired through Interlibrary Loan, inform the patron that their article will be available at the main circulation desk. File the article under the patron’s last name with reserve books in the circulation office.
If the patron will be picking up printouts or books not acquired via inter-library loan, inform them of any charges that will be due. Mark the printouts or books with the patron’s name, the date and amount due, if any. File the article under the patron’s last name with reserve books in the circulation office.
Requests to check on the shelf-status of books may be referred to the Reference Department during busy periods. In this instance, change the status of the book to “on hold shelf,” and file under the patron’s name in the Circ Office. Instruct the patron to pick up the book at the main desk.

Incomplete Reference Transactions

Although every effort is made to complete questions immediately, some can remain at the end of a shift or day. A patron will be advised if more than one day is needed to complete the question.
Unfinished questions are to be recorded on a Pending Reference Questions form and left in the box at the desk.

Loan of Reference Materials

Reference books labeled with purple 7 day circulation stickers may be checked out at the Reference and Information Services desk. No volumes of sets, heavily used titles or ready reference titles will be allowed to circulate. Staff will verify that the patron has a valid library card in good standing. Books will be checked out at the Reference Desk for 7 days. Overdue fees of $3.00 per day will be incurred until the Reference book is returned. (Maximum overdue fee $75.00)

Information and Referral

The Reference Department staff shall make every effort to locate and deliver needed information to patrons. Staff members should recognize their own limitations and ask colleagues for advice and assistance as necessary. If a reference question cannot be answered in-house, the librarian should determine whether other libraries or agencies might be better qualified to serve particular needs. If needed materials are located at another library, the staff member will verify that the resources are actually there. A call to have a book held at another library is appropriate. Likewise, staff members should confirm that a referring agency could be of assistance to a patron before referring patrons to it.

Telephone, Fax, Mail, Email Reference

Department staff should make every effort to respond to all reasonable reference inquiries received by telephone, mail, fax or email. Replies should be in the most practical manner such as by telephone, email or mail. Telephone reference service should be used for providing short, factual information. If the inquiry is very urgent or another library so requests, the fax machine may be used. If the question is too involved, it should be treated as any incomplete reference transaction.

Equipment Policies:

If patrons are waiting to use a particular piece of microfiche / film equipment, there is a limit of fifteen minutes per patron. No more than 20 copies should be made of non – library material and all microfilm copies should be made, whenever possible on our Canon 90 rather than our FUJI.

Service Charges

  • Photocopies (in-house): $.15 per page (for letter, legal or ledger sized paper).
  • Paper Copies of Microform: $.25 per page. No more than 20 copies at a time should be made of non-library materials.
  • Computer Printouts (from Internet or other workstations): The cost of printing is $.05 per page.
  • Color Copies: Color copies made by Reference staff for patrons are $.25 each. The department imposes a limit of 5 color copy requests per patron daily.
  • Photocopies including obituaries (requests generated off-site by telephone, mail e-mail or fax): At present, the Department does not formally charge a service fee to complete these transactions other than to recoup the cost of copies made in accordance with the above outlined charges. Requesting patrons are encouraged to make a monetary donation to the Library to help defray direct costs (postage, staff time) of providing these services. The department reserves the right to limit the services it provides in these cases to what it determines to be fair and reasonable.

Last updated: July 12, 2011