Reference Policy


This policy defines the goals, ethics and scope of reference service provided by the Jefferson County Library in support of the mission of the library. It is intended to provide a foundation for staff procedures and providing answers to patron questions about the library’s reference service. Any limitations placed on specific services are for the purpose of equitably serving all patrons.


Provide accurate and timely answers to the majority of information requests using Jefferson County Library resources. If the request cannot be answered with the library’s resources, refer the patron to another Jefferson County Library branch, another library system or to the Inter-Library Loan program.
  • Facilitate access to library resources and assist in the development of research strategies.
  • Provide qualified staff to assist patrons in an effective and courteous manner.
  • Evaluate service on a periodic basis using statistics or other appropriate means.


The staff of the Jefferson County Library strives to handle all inquiries with impartiality and confidentiality in a courteous and efficient manner. No distinction is made about the purpose of the inquiry or the use of the information. Requests for information and resulting patron records shall be kept confidential and shall not be made available to others unless specifically required by court order, or unless cleared by the patron. When referring a question to an outside source, the library will provide the patron’s name only with the patron’s permission.


Availability of service:

Jefferson County Library provides general reference service and access to the library resources to patrons of all ages who request information, regardless of residency, within the scope of our collection and staff expertise. Reference service will be available during all the hours the library is open.
Priorities of service:

Reference service will be provided in response to all forms of inquiry, including telephone, mail, and email. Answering reference questions has priority over other staff assignments. In-person requests will take precedence over other types of requests. There is no set limit to the amount of time which may be spent on a reference question; the librarian will decide when all reasonable sources have been exhausted. When other patrons are waiting, staff will generally defer complex questions to a less busy time.

Generally, staff will provide the answer to a question if the information is available in the library’s resources. However, if determining the answer to a question requires reading and evaluating an extensive amount of text, the staff will gather the sources for the patron to use.

Answers to information requests will be returned in the most efficient way available within legal copyright limits. Unusual or unique circumstances will be taken into account when responding to information requests.
Reference questions that require special approaches:

Medical, legal, tax and financial questions: The library provides information but not advice. Brief definitions and descriptions are given from the library’s collections. Sources will be quoted verbatim with no interpretation by the staff. Since current information in these areas is especially crucial, users will also be encouraged to consult professionals rather than relying on library resources alone.
Appraisals: The library does not appraise rare books or collectibles, but will direct patrons to price lists and appraisers.
Contest/trivia questions: Contest and trivia questions will be treated as any other information request. Assistance will be provided in locating sources for contest and trivia questions.
Homework questions: Reference staff will cooperate with the schools in handling homework assignments. Assignment alerts will be solicited from the schools, and preparations will be made to deal with large assignments to the extent that the library is notified. Staff will assist students in their searches rather than provide specific answers for their projects.

Bibliographies and pathfinders: Bibliographies are prepared for subject areas perceived as being of interest to the community and library users; none are compiled on demand.
Crisscross and city directory information: This information will not be given by telephone. Any branch libraries holding these directories will make them available for in-house use.

The Northwest Branch of Jefferson County Library maintains a special, reference collection of local history and genealogy resources; patrons interested in researching these topics in depth should consult the staff and collections at the Northwest Branch.