Reference desk

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Traditional name for the service desk in the library for research assistance.

When a library user has a question about how to use the library, he or she may contact the reference desk, either in person, by phone, or (in some libraries) via e-mail. In libraries in the United States, the reference desk is staffed by a reference librarian during most hours that the library is open.

A particular librarian may be "on duty" at the reference desk to offer assistance to library users. Many different levels of reference question exist, ranging from the "ready reference" questions like, "What is the capital of Bolivia?" right up to detailed queries exploring topics such as epistemological philosophy.

Some issues about reference desks include:

  • Renaming the desk (e.g., Help Desk or Information Desk)
  • Integrating service desks (such as with the Circulation Desk)
  • Desk height (with consideration to accessibility)
  • Removing the reference desk, in favor of free-flowing staff ("roving reference")
  • Acceptable approachability behaviors by desk staff (e.g., reading)
  • The placement of titles behind the reference desk, away from direct public access
  • Tiered service levels (i.e., having questions fielded by nonprofessional staff and escalated when necessary)
  • Triage of multiple patrons and time spent per patron, considering their method of contact (telephone or e-mail or chat)
  • Library operations issues, such as staffing levels, hours of operation, scheduling, and training
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