Competency I

Use service concepts, principles, and techniques to connect individuals or groups with accurate, relevant, and appropriate information.

Statement of Competency

Librarians with this competency have the ability to successfully understand the patron’s information need, assist in locating and evaluating resources to determine whether they answer the information question as well as giving users the skills to conduct self-directed searches in the future.

The library exists to serve the community. But there are instances when patrons are reluctant to ask for assistance because they are embarrassed that their question is too simple to ask help for, they had a bad experience with a previous reference transaction, or they just don’t want to bother the librarian (Swope & Katzer, 1972, p. 161).

Because inquiries can now come in-person, by phone, by email, and by text, how do librarians sort through all those questions? Categorizing reference questions is a useful way to answer reference questions. Rapid reference questions are questions that can be easily answered using a general reference source. Librarians should use these moments to teach the patron how to locate the information. Libraries usually have a ready reference section either in print or on their website and the resources are based on questions that are commonly asked by patrons. I have seen libraries use a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section or a word cloud with tags of the most asked about topics. These type of questions are diminishing with the availability of Google. Another type of question is the research question. These are questions are more complex and require multiple resources. And some questions are for bibliographic information. Sometimes, users have already completed their research and need to verify their citations, they might have incomplete citations, or need help writing their citations. These type of questions are also diminishing because electronic databases now provide citations (Cassell & Hiremath, 2013, p. 6).

Services, Principles and Techniques


Reference services can be obtained through many channels. But the librarian is still the mediator between the information and the user (University of Florida, 2008, Professional Information Search Service). The heart of this interaction is the reference interview. It is a highly nuanced process and the approach will be different for every user.

Ross, et al (2009) describes the overall structure of a reference interview as having three phases: 1) establishing a connection with the user, 2) understanding the information need, and 3) assisting the user to find the answer and confirming that it is the answer needed (Ross, et al, 2013, p. 5).

In 2013, the RUSA Board approved revisions to Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Providers. It still has the five main areas:

  • Visibility/Approachability – One way to remedy this situation is to locate the reference desk where it is clearly visible to the patrons or the reference librarians can roam around the library to check if there are people who appear confused or frustrated. And most of all, patrons appreciate a friendly greeting to initiate conversation.
  • Interest – Demonstrate genuine yet objective interest in the question and try to provide the best possible assistance. This can be conveyed by facing the patron when speaking and listening.
  • Listening/Inquiring – Identify the patron’s information needs in a manner that puts the patron at ease. Repeating the question back to the patron is a good way to make sure the librarian understood the question.
  • Searching – Effective searching includes selecting terms that are most relevant to the information need and explains the search strategy to the patron. Works with patron to evaluate results, revise search terms, and identify other sources if the search is unsuccessful.
  • Follow Up – Making sure that the patron is satisfied with the results and recommending additional resources, if not available at the library. (RUSA, 2015, Introduction).

In conducting the reference interview, the librarian must also gauge how formal or informal the conversation should be at the same time, maintaining a professional demeanor and objectivity.

Readers’ Advisory

Readers’ advisory is a type of service “that puts the right resources in the hands of the right reader” (Cassell & Hiremath, 2013, p. 7). Traditionally, patrons approach a librarian to ask for recommendations. Readers’ advisory is generally associated with public and school libraries. Effective readers’ advisory librarians are skilled at using questions to better understand the reader’s interests. They must have a vast knowledge of genres for both fiction and non-fiction and must be very familiar with the library’s holdings (p. 8).

The top readers’ advisory tools include Bowker’s Fiction/Non-Fiction Connection, Gale’s Books and Authors and What Do I Read Next series, EBSCO’s NoveList and Libraries Unlimited’s Reader’s Advisor Online (Cassell & Hiremath, 2013, p. 295-296). Academic libraries usually do not need readers’ advisories but they may be useful for suggesting related research material. In public libraries, I have seen different ways to promote titles such as Staff Recommendations, Best of Fiction (for that particular year from booksellers, NY Times, etc.), or Caldecott Medal winners (for children’s literature) by displaying the books themselves, photos of the books or a printed list. Because the reading landscape changes frequently, librarians who do readers’ advisory should always hone their techniques, attend training and read widely to keep up with the field (Cassell & Hiremath, 2013, p. 297).

Information Literacy

Information literacy is a crucial skill in the pursuit of knowledge. It is a service that teaches patrons how to locate, evaluate, and use the library’s resources. The librarian’s main goal is to demonstrate how to use the libraries resources in a way that is engaging and understandable. This could be as simple as showing a patron how to use the online catalog to finding print and electronic resources to teaching a user how to conduct complicated searches on multiple databases.

Grassian (2004) says that information literacy has evolved from basic bibliographic instructions to showing users how to apply their skills in new situations, new information tools and new environments to help them learn how to learn (p. 52).

In academic libraries, information literacy takes the form of class instruction on how to conduct research in the library. Having worked in an academic library, library orientation takes two sessions, one just to show what the library has and the other for research strategies. Nevertheless, these sessions are so packed with information that retention is quite low. Information literacy can also be done through tours, instructional guides like LibGuides or Wiki pages, tutorials and pathfinders (Cassell & Hiremath, 2013, p. 339).

Wesleyan University (2015) has a very informative outline of what an information literate person should be able to:

  • Identify information needs and determine the extent of information needed.
  • Locate and retrieve appropriate sources of information
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Synthesize the information retrieved, integrate it into one’s knowledge base, and successfully apply it to the original information need
  • Present this newly acquired knowledge so that others can use it
  • Translate these abilities and concepts to new projects and disciplines

Today, there is a push for information literacy, not just in this country but globally. It has become vital to connect users with the knowledge they seek, even knowledge they didn’t know they needed.

Other Services

Librarianship is an ethical profession and librarians should abide by the Library Bill of Rights, particularly Article 5 which “states a person’s right to use the library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background or views” and uses reference search strategies to assist diverse groups of people find the information they need.

Librarianship is also a service profession. Librarians are often exposed to a variety of people. Diversity is not just based on race but also age, disability, reading level, economic status, even appearance and odor.  Libraries can be counted on to serve diverse groups of people. Many public libraries offer a variety of adult services such as book discussion groups, basic computer classes, employee search support, programs for new immigrants, services for older patrons, and readers’ advisory (ALA, 2015). For children, there are preschool story times, early and summer reading programs.

IFLA (2014) suggests the following services for Youth Services: free internet access, information literacy through tours and training for information finding skills, readers’ advisory, and providing services to special groups like teens with disabilities, teen parents, teens who are incarcerated and outreach programs for those who cannot come to the library. Some programs for teens are include books talks, information programs on topics of interest like health or career building, cultural performances, and workshops to teach a skill or for creative expression.

In order for libraries to provide the best possible services, the first step is to develop a collection that provides “an effective, balanced, and substantial collection for each ethnic, cultural or linguistic group in the community” (RUSA, 2015, Section 2.0). Libraries can use demographic information provided by the U.S. Census to ensure that materials reflect the ethnicity of the community served. There should a good “cross-section of subjects, literary genres, geographic areas and time periods appropriate to the users’ interests and needs (Section 2.1.2 – 2.1.3). The RUSA guidelines also suggest providing materials for language-learning for all members of the community as well as materials for learning English (Section 2.2.1). The multilingual resources should also come in a variety of formats which are accessible to the non-English patrons. Access can be improved by cataloging in English and the original language so bibliographic access is available in both languages (Section 2.3.1). Making sure that physical access is easily identifiable through signage and that librarian assistance is readily available.

Accommodating users with disabilities include purchasing furniture and equipment. These include wheelchair accessible workstations and tables, computers with large screens and assistive technologies, TDD machines for the deaf, magnifying equipment, large print material and Braille dictionaries to name a few. Physical access such as lower shelves or prominent signage are also helpful. However, libraries should also have a written policy in place, staff training especially on sensitivity and empathy, and provide individualized service (Wiler & Lomax, 2000, Analysis).

Where We Are Now

In recent years, libraries have been undergoing a transformation. Instead of just being a repository for books and other knowledge resources, libraries have become community hubs. According to a recent Pew Report (2015), the public is interested in new services and thinks libraries are important to communities.

Many Americans want public libraries to support local education; serve special populations like the military, veterans, and immigrants; help local businesses, job seekers, and those upgrading their work skills; embrace new technologies such as 3D printers and provide services to help patrons learn about high-tech gadgetry. Almost 75% of Americans over the age of 16 say that libraries help find the health information they need. These are goals libraries, particularly public libraries, can work towards.

We can examine some ways to address these goals. First, it might be well worth it to coordinate with local schools so libraries can provide homework support, buy curriculum-related materials, and reserve a designated area for students. This would be very helpful for students who do not have computers or quiet areas to work at home. Second, veterans, military and immigrants have special information needs, especially when it comes to job-hunting. Veterans and the military have a hard time transitioning to the civilian world or researching their benefits.

While some immigrants need help learning to speak English or require resources in their native language. Having a librarian who knows a second language, especially if it’s a language spoken by the majority immigrant group, is usually helpful. Immigrants feel more comfortable with someone who can understand them. Third, libraries can be the connection between local businesses and job seekers, possibly by holding local job fairs in the lobby, and they can help people in upgrading their work skills, prepare for interviews, or career advice by inviting professionals to conduct workshops or classes. Fourth, libraries can create makerspaces where patrons can conceptualize and build projects while familiarizing themselves with high-tech gadgetry like 3D printer and laser cutters. Finally, it’s not surprising that many people want to find health information. Unless a librarian has taken health information in graduate school, it would be advisable to enroll in a course offered by RUSA called “Health Information 101.” I’ve taken this course and it’s very informative and have given me the confidence to deal with health questions.

Justification of Evidence

  1. Are You Being Served (LIBR 210 Reference and User Services)

I included this artifact from my reference class where we read the writings of some big names in information science like Carol Kuhlthau and Barbara Fister. The readings examined the interactions between librarians and patrons. They also noted the attitudes behind the information-seeking behavior of users. Because of the negative image most people have of librarians, most patrons are reluctant to ask for assistance for fear of being thought of as ignorant. Often the reference librarian has to coax the “real” question from the patron because sometimes patrons cannot articulate the information they need. Another challenge is most people want the answer right away, even if it is not the best possible answer.  In my discussion post I referred to Steven Bell’s (comparison of reference transactions to dating. He said that we must provide meaning and personalization to the relationship because someone who has a good experience is likely to return (Bell, 2010, UX Goals). I believe that the best indication of excellent reference service is a satisfied customer.

  1. Factors Affecting Reference Success (LIBR 210 Reference and User Services)

This discussion post also comes from my reference class. I chose to respond to Durrance’s (1989) article on reference success. Three years before Durrance’s article, Hernon and McClure coined a term called the 55% Rule and their premise is that librarians fall short as information providers because they don’t always give accurate information which puts the weight of reference success solely on the librarian. Durrance argued that the reference environment is also an important aspect of the reference interview. The most common negative factors include the location of the reference desk, not being able to identify if the person at the desk is a reference librarian, or a lack of privacy. From the librarian’s perspective, negative factors could include a patron who cannot give enough useful input to conduct a search or rude attitude, being too busy with other patrons, not knowing where library resources are. But all of these can be overcome by establishing meaningful relationships, and if each party respects each other, then they are on the road to successful reference experience.

  1. Consumer Outreach Plan (ALA Health Information 101)

The professor for Health Info 101 class had us watch a few videos that showed how bad the health information literacy problem is the United States. According to the videos, a big percentage of there are 14.5 million adults 65 and over who have below basic literacy skills. Only 3% of older adults surveyed had proficient health literacy skills (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2006, p. 5). The assignment is to create a consumer outreach project so this is the user group I decided to work on. It was a bit difficult to formulate a plan when not currently working in a library and I have no previous public library experience. But I tried to put myself in the shoes of both librarian and patron to envision what a good consumer outreach plan would involve. First of all I had to write objectives which identified the audience for my plan and how to make the library the premier source of quality information outside of their medical providers and also empower users regarding their own health care. By teaching health information literacy to this patron group, the library can help reduce the risk to their health, which in turn reduces the burden on the health care system. The plan I created also provides information literacy tools such as reproducible printouts such as worksheet of questions to ask the doctor, checklist of symptoms and common medical terms and dosage amounts. As part of the program, a medical professional will also be invited to demonstrate exemplar patient-doctor exchange.


Are You Being Served

Factors Affecting Reference Success

Consumer Outreach Plan


ALA. (2015). Library bill of rights. Retrieved from

Bell, Steven/ (2010). Fish market 101: Why not a reference user experience. LJ Archives. Retrieved from

Durrance, J.C. (1989). Reference success: Does the 55% rule tell the whole story? Library Journal, 114 (7), 31-36.

Grassian, E. (2004). Building on bibliographic instruction. American Libraries, 35, 51-53.

Horrigan, J.B. (2015). Libraries at the crossroads. Retrieved from

IFLA. (2014). Guidelines for library services for young adults. Retrieved from

Ross, C.S., Nilsen K. & Radford, M.L. (2009). Conducting the Reference Interview. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman.

RUSA. (2015). Guidelines for behavioral performance of reference and information service providers. Retrieved from

RUSA. (2015). Guidelines for the development and promotion of multilingual collections and services. Retrieved from

RUSA. (2015). Reference/information services: Reference transactions. Retrieved from

Swope, M.J. & Katzer, J. (1972). The silent majority: Why don’t they ask questions? RQ 12(2), 161-166.

University of Florida. (2008). Professional information Search Service. Retrieved from

Wesleyan University. (2015). Information Literacy. Retrieved from

Wiler, L.L. & Lomax, E. (2000). The Americans with disabilities act compliance and academic libraries in the southeastern United States. Journal of Southern Academic and Special Librarianship. Retrieved from