[Libs-Or] Drawing the line between reference and advice

EVENSTAD Thea tevenstad at springfield-or.gov
Tue Nov 24 13:15:09 PST 2015

Hi Kristen,

What an interesting question! I'm not sure if you've found some helpful information yet.

I found that Rutgers Reference and Information Service page<http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/public_service_policies/pspm_02_reference_information_service> includes "Service Definitions" that describe what reference service is at their institution and their "Service Limitations" have some good ways of differentiating between reference service and not-reference service, specifically:

*         "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."

Similarly, Aurora Public Library provides a Reference Services Policy<http://www.aurorapubliclibrary.org/about-the-library/policies/reference-services-policy/> that states:

*         Staff will offer their best professional opinion when providing reader's advisory service or recommending the best source to answer a question. Staff will not give opinions, advice, or interpretation of information beyond the scope of their expertise and training in library reference work.

I also think the Answerland guidelines for Crisis Calls<https://www.answerland.org/help/crisis-calls> may be helpful, specifically these two points:

*         "If the question is personal, refer the patron to an appropriate hotline. As librarians, we don't have the necessary training to assist a patron in crisis, but we can find resources that will help. Links for hotline resources are listed below.

*         Strike a balance between professional behavior and supportive behavior. If the patron is in trouble, we want to be friendly, supportive, and approachable, as with all of our patrons. However, remain professional and give resources rather than advice."

Maybe you could develop your own Reference Service Policy for your library, then develop a training where your staff are given scenarios and have to decide whether or not what the patron is asking falls within the scope of your reference service, as identified by the policy.

Hope this helps!


Thea Evenstad
Librarian and Arts Commission Liaison
Springfield Public Library
225 5th St
Springfield, OR 97477
tevenstad at springfield-or.gov<mailto:tevenstad at springfield-or.gov>

From: Libs-Or [mailto:libs-or-bounces at listsmart.osl.state.or.us] On Behalf Of Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney
Sent: Monday, November 23, 2015 3:04 PM
To: libs-or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us
Subject: [Libs-Or] Drawing the line between reference and advice

I'm wondering if anyone has any good resources for staff training, or even good rules of thumb, for drawing a line between reference and advice. For example, I've recently had some staff members get drawn into proofreading papers, giving advice on resume wording, offering to read and critique cover letters, and items of that nature. I feel that one-on-one resume advice or proofreading/critiquing a paper crosses a line, much like giving medical advice or tax advice, but I'm finding it a bit hard to articulate to staff, other than to remind them that our job is to offer resources so that people can learn to do things themselves. Thoughts? Advice?
Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney, MLIS
Library Director
Driftwood Public Library
801 SW Hwy 101, #201
Lincoln City, OR 97367
541-996-1251 (desk)
541-996-1262 (fax)

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