Public Library X:
How RUSA Influences Interactions
Historical Aspects of Reference Service
In David A. Tyckoson’s article “Issues and Trends in the
Management of Reference Services: A Historical
Perspective,” he highlights the four functions of library
service that were identified in 1987 by Samuel Green.
These functions are: Teaching users how to use the
library and its resources, answering specific
informational queries from users, recommending sources
to users that fit their desires, and promoting the library
within the community
Although times have changed, Tyckoson asserts that this
underlying basis for reference services remains constant.
Reference Service Challenges Today
With tight budgets, many libraries have either
eliminated or limited reference librarians.
In some libraries, this means that general librarians are
performing work that reference librarians typically would
In the instance of Public Library X, this was the case
For patrons, reference service varied greatly between the two
Librarian X provided information on cataloging but would not
engage in other forms of communication, whereas Librarian Y
more thoroughly performed the work of a typical reference
• There was an additional reference desk employee, but this individual
had little to no engagement with patrons.
Public Library X Demographics
Public Library X has a small budget
There are no additional funds in the operating budget to hire a
reference librarian, despite the fact that the staff currently receive
many reference questions daily.
Public Library X is in a small community
Many of the patrons have known the staff members for years; both in
a community and library setting
This may have an impact on different reference services and
Public Library X has three employees.
Librarian X and Y are full-time employees
There is also a reference desk worker.
This employee provides additional assistance to the librarians
The Reference and User Services Association has broken down the
reference interview process into four communication techniques
that are all aspects of the reference interview.
These steps consist of:
Approachability, which concerns the verbal and non-verbal cues of a
librarian and establishes a reference presence
Interest, which pertains to how a librarian should demonstrate
interest in the interaction when working with a patron
Listening/Inquiring, which refers to the reference interview and
how it can be used to identify the information needs of the patron
Searching, which involves determining what resources have been
reviewed and which still need review
Follow-up, which consists of checking back with the patron to
ensure their question has been answered, and if not, making them
aware of other resources and facilities that could address their
Sample Reference Conversation between
Librarian X and patron
Patron approaches reference desk and no one is available. Patron must try to
get the attention of Librarian X.
“Hi, I’ve been trying to gather information on (local history) but can’t find
anything,” the patron said to Librarian X
“Hm, well, that’s frustrating,” Librarian X responded.
“Is there anything here or should I try the X (historical) museum?” the
“No, the materials are in our history section,” said Librarian X said.
“Ok,” said the patron, who then preceded to walk around the library
looking for the history section. After a few minutes, Library Y approached
“Is there something I can help you find?” Librarian Y asked.
“Yes, I am looking for (local history) information but don’t know where to
look,” the patron said.
“It’s right over here, let me show you,” Librarian Y said. Afterward,
Librarian Y explained how the materials were organized and explained how
and where additional information could be found.
Patrons Reaction to Reference Service
When the patron acted embarrassed while having
difficulty getting the attention of the librarian in the
beginning of the interaction.
When the librarian did not make any attempt to help
her locate materials, the patron tried to find the
Without the help of Librarian Y, the patron may have
left the library without the desired material and with
an unfavorable opinion of reference services at
Public Library X.
How RUSA functions can be Used to Enhance
Approachability: Librarian X was not available for the patron when needed,
but Librarian Y approached the patron and provided assistance.
Interest: Librarian X did not engage in the conversation, did not smile
during the interaction and did not appear to want to help the patron more
than providing basic information. Librarian Y took an interest in the patron
and was able to help.
Listening and Inquiring: Librarian X, listened to the patrons needs, but did
not inquire to receive more information that could help in locating the
materials. Librarian Y asked the patron questions so that she could help
find specific materials for the patron.
Searching: Librarian X failed to inquire into what materials had been used
in the past and what was specifically wanted during the visit to Public
Library X. Librarian Y assisted the patron in the search and helped her to
locate the needed information.
Follow-up: Before the patron checked out, Librarian Y asked if she needed
an additional help with locating resources. In addition, Librarian Y
provided contact information from a local historian who could be of
assistance in the quest for information on the topic.
Tyckoson, D. A. (2012). Issues and Trends in the
Management of Reference Services: A Historical
Perspective. Journal of Library Administration,
52(6/7), 581-600. Doi:
Kern, Kathleen M. and Woodard, Beth S. in Bopp,
Richard E. and Smith, Linda C. Reference and
Information Services: An Introduction. The
Reference Interview. 54-73. 4th ed.