Reference Service Policy Statement

Updated September 2012

Table of contents

  1. Mission statement and service philosophy
  2. Purpose of this policy statement
  3. Position statements
  4. Goals and objectives of reference service
  5. Service to Western and non-Western users
  6. Services for users with special needs
  7. Types of reference service
  8. Limitations on reference service
  9. Interlibrary Loans
  10. Information Literacy
  11. Privacy

1. Mission statement and service philosophy

The mission of the University of Western Ontario states:

Western provides the best student experience among Canada's leading research-intensive universities.

Accordingly, the mission of Western Libraries states:

Western Libraries is committed to excellence: anticipating information and service needs related to the University's goals for research and scholarship, teaching and learning, and service to our university community and key partners. Our staff engages the Western academic community in the development of new services, and continuously strives to exceed the expectations of our diverse user groups.

Reference Service at all eight locations of Western Libraries is one of the vital and visible expressions of the Libraries' purpose and mission. It is a fundamental service offered to Western Libraries' users to aid them to fulfill their information needs. The customer service is user centered and strives to provide reference assistance at the point of need. Since an increasing number of users are accessing the Libraries from home or office, it is imperative that Reference Service addresses this trend by providing and developing appropriate services.

2. Purpose of this policy statement

The purpose of this policy statement is to provide Western Libraries' staff with a compendium of information policies that promote a uniform standard of service of the highest possible quality consistent with available resources.

The statement is designed both to orient new staff members and to be an information resource for more experienced staff.

The statement may be made available to any library patron if s/he has a question concerning the service policy.

This policy will be reviewed biennially, or upon request, for currency, accuracy and completeness. Significant individual changes may be made throughout the year as the need for them arises.

3. Position statements

General service guidelines for Western Libraries are outlined in Customer Service Policy Statement. Western Libraries subscribes to the Canadian Library Association's Code of Ethics, and the Statement on Intellectual Freedom. Western Students have a code of conduct, The University of Western Ontario Code of Student Conduct.

4. Goals and objectives of reference service

The goal of Western Libraries' Reference Service is to help library users to more efficiently meet their information needs regarding research, teaching and learning. Library services are offered primarily to faculty, students and staff to facilitate access to information with the ultimate goal of patron self sufficiency to the degree possible given the nature of the user and the relevant material.

Objectives of Western Libraries Reference Service include the following:

  • To accord equal attention and effort to each inquiry, although the time spent by staff on a question may vary in response to the perceived needs of the patron, the information resources (both staff and collections) available, and the method of receipt of the inquiry. Western Libraries adheres to the University's policies of non-discrimination. Limitations on staffing, equipment and material resources constrain the level of service for non-University users. (See section 5 below)
  • To maintain an up-to-date, relevant and readily accessible working collection of reference materials, relating primarily to the University's research and instructional programs. The reference collection includes, but is not limited to, general and research-oriented print and electronic material such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias, biographies, bibliographies, indexes, directories, almanacs, handbooks, and statistical sources.
  • To give appropriate reference assistance to library clientele at the point of need. This assistance includes appropriate web based material as well as in-person assistance at the library, via the phone, email or online.
  • To provide information literacy instruction and teach users to become self sufficient in the use of information by the most effective means.
  • To provide and facilitate access to remote bibliographic, numeric and full-text databases.
  • To actively promote the scope, nature, and availability of the information services Western Libraries offers.
  • To facilitate access via Interlibrary Loans to library materials which are not available in Western Libraries. (See Section 9 below)
  • To foster an environment which creates a tradition of excellent service and to promote the effective utilization of the staff and materials at our disposal.
  • To cooperate with other library units by providing them with information about user needs derived from ongoing contact with our users with the ultimate goal of improved service.
  • To be alert to new innovations/technologies that could affect the quality of Reference Service and to take advantage of such technologies to improve service.

5. Service to Western and non-Western users

The well-defined Access Code for Western Libraries outlines the service for both Western affiliated and non-University affiliated users. The "Access to Collections" section reads:

4.1: Access to Collections: Western Libraries is open to the general public and visitors are welcomed. Most collections in the Libraries are on display and available for browsing and use within the Libraries. Access to some resources may be restricted and use of those resources reserved exclusively for the faculty, staff and students of the University and its immediate affiliates. Limitations on staffing, equipment and material resources constrain the level of support Western Libraries can provide to non-University users.

In addition, the Access Code defines primary and secondary users, outlines the services available to the constituents of each group, and provides specific guidelines for the use of the online catalogue and the electronic databases:

4.2: Access to Electronic Resources: The catalogue of Western Libraries is freely available electronically as are many of the guides, policy statements and publications produced by the Libraries. Where possible, Western Libraries allows access to some workstations and unrestricted databases and to those electronic resources which are available free to the public. Library workstations are provided primarily, however, to access information in support of the University's teaching and research and to enhance scholarly communication. Priority is given to academic use. Western Libraries complies with the campus policy for the use of computing resources and corporate data.

Electronic databases for which Western Libraries or other units within the University pay subscription fees are generally restricted to immediate members of the University community. Licensing constraints applied by the vendors typically limit access to currently employed faculty and staff and currently enrolled students, and use of the databases is intended for academic purposes exclusively. Economic constraints or vendor requirements may limit the use of some databases to students and faculty in a particular academic department or professional discipline. Access is also not permitted to non-University users accessing Western Libraries remotely.

6. Services for users with special needs

For information regarding services for users with special needs please see our Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities Customer Service Policy.

7. Types of reference service

This section describes the kinds of reference service offered and the section following refers to services not offered.

Reference Service providers:

  • Assist in finding the answer to specific reference questions.
  • Assist in developing research strategies for reports, term papers, theses, and dissertations.
  • Instruct in the use of library resources.
  • Verify library holdings and advise of means of getting materials not owned by Western Libraries.
  • Provide orientation to the various libraries through tours, information sessions, subject specific sessions, etc.
  • Create instructional aids and other help material in electronic and/or paper form.
  • Are available for in-depth reference appointments.

8. Limitations on reference services

Reference Service providers do not:

  • Interpret information, such as legal, medical, financial, statistical information or class assignments.
  • Proof read essays or reports, etc.
  • Make recommendations regarding personal purchases of resources, but will refer users to standard reviews of the works in question.
  • Appraise the private property of users. Users are advised to consult professional appraisers, but specific appraisers are not recommended.
  • Conduct genealogical searches, but offer catalogue assistance and help locating standard genealogical reference sources.
  • Compile or check bibliographies, but offer assistance to users in the use of bibliographical tools.
  • Search for answers to puzzles, quizzes, TV contests, etc., but will offer limited advice as to where users might locate such information.
  • Lend Reference or other restricted materials. Exceptions can be considered for special reasons.
  • Handle users' laptops or other electronic devices; users are referred to appropriate services provided by Western Technology Services.

9. Interlibrary Loans

The Interlibrary Loans (ILL) service supplements the resources available at Western Libraries by borrowing or obtaining materials from other libraries. The service is available for primary users (registered students, faculty and staff at Western and its affiliated colleges).

Borrowers search and place requests for material not held in Western Libraries by using our online interlibrary loan system, accessible through the Western Libraries' Web site. For details see Interlibrary Loans.

10. Information Literacy

Information Literacy, the abilities and skills required to efficiently access, critically assess, effectively assimilate and responsibly apply information that establish the framework for learning and living in an information rich environment, is a strategic priority for Western Libraries.

Staff facilitate the attainment of these skills by:

  • Conducting general library orientation and research skills sessions for individuals or groups.
  • Fostering learning opportunities, exploiting "teachable moments" and using tools such as technology as is appropriate to create instruction that is real and relevant for the learners.
  • Planning and delivering pedagogically sound sessions tailored to the specific needs of an assignment, course or group of learners.
  • Partnering with teaching faculty to embed research and discovery skills into a particular course or across the curriculum.

11. Privacy

As per Western Libraries Privacy Statement and Notice of Collection Western Libraries collects and uses personal information to provide research and reference assistance to patrons.

Western Libraries is committed to protecting the privacy of individuals and protects the confidentiality of a patron's area of research, regardless of how reference support is requested. Details of research projects or the identity of the patron conducting the research is not shared with or disclosed to anyone, other than staff involved in responding to the reference request, without the consent of the patron.

Western Libraries participates in a consortial virtual reference (chat) service as part of the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL). This service, known as Ask a Librarian, allows users to contact Western Libraries with their questions via online chat. Ask A Librarian only requires that users provide their status (i.e. undergraduate, graduate) and university affiliation (i.e. Western). Read the Privacy Policy for Ask a Librarian.

Ask a Librarian provides OCUL with a transcript for each chat session. A copy of this transcript may also be emailed to the patron at the completion of the session on request. These transcripts may be used to evaluate and improve the service. Transcripts are deleted after a thirteen-month period. Transcripts collected using Ask a Librarian will be kept confidential and will only be accessible to OCUL Ask a Librarian administrative staff as well as the Assessment Librarian and Virtual Reference Coordinator for Western Libraries. Should a user of Ask a Librarian wish to have their chat transcript deleted they may do so by contacting the Virtual Reference Coordinator. Please provide the date and time of your chat in order to have it removed from the system.