Reference Services Policy


Purpose of the Reference Services Policy
This policy defines the goals and philosophy of reference services at the Racine Public Library. This policy also identifies for patrons the levels of service which the library provides, based on the resources available.

Goals of the Reference Services
To provide high quality, consistent assistance to patrons seeking information, materials, reader’s advisory service, or guidance in the use of the library.

To acquire resources appropriate to the community’s needs in order to satisfy the majority of requests, using materials available in the library or available electronically using the library’s Internet connection.

To refer the question or patron to appropriate outside sources if the request cannot be answered using the library’s resources.

To provide current information by continuously updating the library’s collections, acquiring new titles and subscription electronic resources, within budgetary limits.
Ethics, Confidentiality, and Impartiality in the Reference Transaction
The library serves patrons of all ages and circumstances, with sensitivity to their particular needs. The library staff understands that the basic function of reference services is to provide information, not opinion.  The library staff provides information in an impartial and businesslike manner, even when contrary to personal beliefs.

The library staff keeps all requests for information and resulting patron records confidential, in accordance with the Wisconsin Statutes on confidentiality of library records. When referring a question, the library will provide the patron’s name to an outside source only if necessary, and if this source also offers a guarantee of confidentiality.

The library and staff subscribe to the American Library Association’s Statement on Professional Ethics, 1981.
Availability of Service
Basic reference service is available to all walk-in patrons, regardless of residency.  Ready reference service is provided by phone to all callers without regard to residency.  More in-depth telephone reference service is available only to residents of the Lakeshores Library System area (Racine and Walworth Counties). For more in-depth service, the staff refers patrons who reside outside the Lakeshores System to their home libraries and/or suggest additional approaches, which these patrons might pursue on their own.

Wisconsin residents may obtain materials and information from the Racine Public Library free of charge through the established interlibrary loan network. The library provides reference service, by e-mail, mail, or by phone, to out-of-state residents who contact the Reference Desk, only if the material involved is unique to the Racine Public Library and does not circulate, such as the archival collections for Racine history. The library charges $40 per hour for this service, prorated in 15-minute increments, plus $.15 per page for photocopies.

Out-of-state residents seeking genealogy information are encouraged to borrow our microfilmed newspapers through interlibrary loan for use at their local library, or to contact the Racine Heritage Museum (which provides genealogical research for a fee) and the Area Research Center at UW-Parkside.
Reference service is provided by qualified staff in both the Adult Services and Youth Services Departments during all hours the library is open. There are at least two librarians on duty in the Adult Services Department, and one in the Youth Services Department, during all service hours.
General Reference Services
Priorities for Service
The library staff gives priority to in-person requests when both in-person and telephone requests are received simultaneously.  Staff may complete a telephone conversation in progress before attending to a patron who is waiting at the desk. However, if a phone conversation becomes lengthy, the staff may ask to return the call, or have the caller hold, while we assist patrons who are waiting at the desk.
Time Limitations
The library staff does not place time limitations on searches, since reference questions vary in complexity, and patrons differ in their needs for personal assistance. However, if a patron has a complex question, and/or needs to be introduced to many sources, the staff will help the patron begin the search, help other patrons who are waiting, then check back on the first patron’s progress. Sometimes it is necessary to help several patrons concurrently.
Types of Information Services
Ready Reference questions can be answered quickly by trained staff using identifiable sources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, directories, Internet search engines, etc.  Some examples are word spellings, zip codes, definitions of words, a company address, and holdings information (“do you own Mein Kampf?”) The reference staff answers ready reference questions by telephone, via email and in-person.

Search Questions require more than a quick answer. Although the source of information may not be readily apparent, it will be clear to the reference librarian what type of  search strategy and what type of sources (print and/or electronic) to use. An example of this type of question would be “how many rose windows are there in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris?” The reference staff accepts this type of question via the telephone, via email or in person.

If, in the course of the search, the staff discovers that finding an answer entails a great deal of reading, or unindexed sources, the staff gathers the sources and asks the patron to complete the search (coming to the library if not already in the building). If finding an answer entails scanning many web pages produced by using an Internet search engine, the staff will recreate the search on a public computer so that a patron who is in the library may do the scanning. If a patron is contacting the staff from outside the library and has Internet access, the staff will explain to the patron how to recreate the search. If the patron does not have Internet access, he or she will need to come to the library to use the public workstations.

Research Questions require the gathering and synthesis of extensive information from various sources. Term papers and other reports are examples of this type of question.  The reference staff guides the patron in his/her search, suggesting search strategies and sources, and explaining the use of appropriate reference and indexing tools.

Instructional Service to patrons is both direct and indirect. The reference staff shows patrons who prefer to work independently how to use the computer catalog, periodical indexes, and other library sources, if they request instruction. As indicated above, patrons also are given instruction in use of library resources if the staff needs their help to complete a search.

Patrons also receive instruction indirectly as they observe the staff using the resources of the library. When appropriate, the staff explains to patrons they are helping what they are doing, in order to encourage independent use of the library.


Reference librarians teach regularly scheduled classes on a variety of personal computer topics, including the use of Internet browsing software. One-on-one assistance in the use of Microsoft Office products, Internet browsers and other software products available on the library’s public access computers is provided on a very limited basis. The amount of assistance available at a particular time will vary, depending on the level of reference desk staffing and the demands on the staff’s time.

Internet Assistance is provided to help patrons develop search strategies for locating information in free, publicly-available web pages and databases as well as in online databases that are paid for by the library, Lakeshores Library System or the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. The reference staff will not enter personal data for patrons who are conducting transactions at web sites requiring this type of data entry, but they will provide navigational assistance to the best of their ability.

Readers’ Advisory Service is provided to help patrons access the fiction collection.  Since fiction is shelved alphabetically by authors’ name, and subject heading for fiction in the catalog are a relatively recent innovation (and, therefore, quite limited), special reference tools are often needed to locate specific types of fiction.  The reference staff consults these tools and suggests titles, and/or instructs the patron in the us of these tools, as appropriate to each situation

Special Categories of Information
Legal, Medical, and Financial Questions
The staff provides information by telephone if it is very brief and can be read in its entirety. The reference staff provides assistance in the use of the collection to patrons who are at the library. Staff does not offer opinions or interpretations, nor do the librarians attempt to abstract or condense information given over the telephone or in person.  Sources are given and quoted verbatim. Since current information in these areas is especially crucial, the staff also encourages patrons to consult professionals rather than relying on printed sources alone. Although the staff makes every effort to obtain the most reliable resources for the collection the library does not assume responsibility for the accuracy of its sources.

Contest/Trivia Questions
The library does not assume the responsibility for finding contest answers nor of guaranteeing their correctness. Patrons who come to the library are assisted in finding probable sources for answers. In the case of an identifiable contest or quiz question received by telephone, the patron is encouraged to come to the library.

Non-contest trivia questions are treated like any other reference question. The reference staff provides answers to easily researched questions. Although patrons are asked to do their own research for questions of a more detailed or complex nature, the staff makes every effort to lead them to the appropriate resources.
The library has a collection of price guides providing an indication of market value for collectibles and antiques. In the case of a telephone request, the staff provides information from standard printed sources if the object is easily identifiable.  If the object cannot be readily identified from a verbal description, the patron is encouraged to come to the library to consult the available guides. The library does not assume responsibility for determining the value of an object.
Homework Questions
Generally, the staff does not do the reference work required for school assignments, but gives students instruction in the use of library tools, and guides them in their search for material. The staff will answer the occasional ready reference question over the phone.  However, if the assignment consists of a lengthy list of ready reference questions, the student is encouraged to come to the library to do the research.


Bookmobile librarians encourage students who need resources beyond those available in the bookmobile collection to go to the main library. If requests for student assignments are sent to the main library, the reference librarian does the students’ work, and this defeats the general policy stated above.
City Directory/Criss-Cross Information
Information from the City Directory and the Criss-Cross is public information, and is given by telephone and in-house, including nearby listings.
Stock Price Quotations
The reference staff provides a maximum of five stock price quotations per patron, per day, if they are available in hard copy sources.  Patrons requiring additional prices, or prices available only on microfilm, need to come to the library to do their own searching.  The reference staff will direct patrons to the appropriate resources.
Checking for Obituaries
The reference staff will check for an obituary requested by a local patron only if the date of death is known.  Otherwise, the patron must come to the library to do the research.

Genealogical Questions

The library has basic materials relating to genealogical research, and the U.S. Census materials for Racine County. The reference staff acquires materials through interlibrary loan and makes appropriate referrals. The library staff does not do genealogical searches.

While the reference staff prepares subject bibliographies on topics of interest to a broad segment of the community for general use by library patrons, the staff does not compile bibliographies on a particular topic for any one person exclusively.

Generally, the staff does not check reading lists or bibliographies against library holdings.  The staff will check up to five titles for an individual. For longer lists, the staff teaches the patron how to use the catalog so that the patron may do the checking.

If a person, agency, or group outside the library is preparing a bibliography for distribution to a group of the public at large, the staff will check this list against the library’s holdings, as time permits. Adding call number to these lists is done as a convenience and timesaving device for both the users of the list and the library staff.  This includes bibliographies to be used in classes or workshops, and lists to be distributed by local organizations to their membership or the public.

Mathematical Computations

The library will provide mathematical formulas, but will not compute the answers.

Electronic Reference Sources
Government-Produced Electronic Resources

The Racine Public Library is a partial government depository, which means the library receives selected items free (for example, federal, state, and local government documents), and is expected to provide public access to them to anyone who requests it. The federal government now distributes some of this information in CD-ROM format, and via the Internet. The library has several CD-ROM products available for use by the public, and provides Internet access to government web sites.

Commercially Produced Electronic Resources
In addition to the products which the library receives from the government, the library purchases subscriptions to a small number of commercially produced online databases, including one for locating information about business establishments. These may be used by the public as well as the reference staff.  However, the library’s licensing agreements permit patrons to copy only a limited amount of information (either to disk or on paper). If a patron needs an extensive mailing list, the staff can refer him/her to appropriate sources for purchasing such a list.

The library also provides access to commercially produced online databases that are paid for by the Lakeshores Library System and the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Public Access to CD-ROM Products

The library provides a microcomputer workstation for public access to these sources.  Patron use of this workstation is limited to 30 minutes if others are waiting to use it.  Patrons may make paper copies at the rate of $.25 per sheet of paper used.

The public access microcomputer is available only for use with the library’s reference resources. This machine is not available for personal microcomputing purpose, nor for use with software supplied by the public.

Faxing Responses to Reference Questions to Patrons

  1. If the librarian determines it is more efficient to fax a couple of pages rather than relay information through some other means, there will be no charge to the patron.
  2. The charges listed below apply to faxes sent to homes or offices in our service area.
  3. Faxes sent to homes or offices outside our service area are subject to the fax charges listed below, as well as our usual charges for reference service to patrons outside our service area.
  4. We will fax a maximum of 15 pages (not including the cover sheet) per day to any individual.
  5. Charges are $3 for the first page, and $.25 per page for pages 2 through 15.
  6. Charges will be billed on the fax transmission cover sheet. (See sample attached).
  7. We will not fax tax forms.
  8. We will not fax information if, in our judgement, fulfillment of the request would violate copyright law.
  9. Information will be faxed as promptly as our service volume allows.10.  City of Racine and Racine County agencies will be billed for faxes, just as they are for photocopies made on library machines.
  10. 11.  The Racine Public Library will not charge for faxing to any public library in Wisconsin, or to the libraries at UW-Parkside, Carthage College, Gateway Technical College, or to libraries in the hospitals of the All Saints Healthcare System Inc., or to the libraries in the public or private schools in Racine and Walworth counties. The Racine Public Library shall charge for faxing to any other libraries, and to any individuals or businesses.
  11. For patrons living in the Lakeshores Library System, the Racine Public Library will fax information free to the closest public library for the patron to pick it up there.  We will not fax free to homes, offices, etc. in the Lakeshores Library System.

This policy supersedes all previous reference policies and rules issued by the Racine Public Library.



Adopted May 18, 1995; Revised February 20, 1997; March 20, 1997; September 16, 1999; May 17, 2001; March 21, 2002; August 17, 2006.