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Reference & Research Services: Our Policies

Reference Librarians: We make your research easier & your results better!

Philosophy of Reference & Research Services

ODU reference librarians provide quality reference and resaerch assistance to the ODU community to address their information and research needs. Learning how to use information resources is vital to lifelong learning; therefore, as active agents in the promotion of information literacy, ODU reference librarians strive to equip patrons with the skills to conduct effective and increasingly independent research.

ODU Library’s reference librarians aim to provide comprehensive services to library patrons. Comprehensive reference service can be defined in terms of answering the query and/or providing the means for the patron to find the answer to the query.

ODU Reference Services reflect the Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers, from the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). These guidelines outline professional behavior in reference and information services, detailing the importance of the following:

  1. Approachability
  2. Interest
  3. Listening/inquiring
  4. Searching
  5. Follow-up

ODU reference librarians take all information needs of every patron seriously and will treat all patrons with respect, courtesy, interest, and confidentiality (see also our Professional Ethics section).

While librarians who provide reference service will aid in identifying the criteria for evaluation of an information resource, they are not obligated to interpret the intellectual content of the information found in information sources or evaluate the information for inclusion in a student assignment.

Librarians who provide reference service are likewise not obligated to provide assistance in formatting citations. They may refer patrons to the appropriate resources available or refer a patron to the Write Place.

Service Provision

We provide reference and research services in person, by phone, by email, by chat, and online face-to-face in Teams. Reference service to library patrons is on a first-come, first-serve basis, regardless of the medium in which the question is received. 

In-Person, Telephone, & Online Queries

During their shifts, librarians balance the needs of all patrons in the immediate area, on the phone, and online and use judgment in determining how best to serve patrons who may simultaneously need assistance.

Librarians are happy to answer questions and assist students to help them to do in-depth research, but ODU librarians will not provide the following:

  1. Information confidential to the university or its departments
  2. Answers to quiz/test questions 
  3. In-depth research themselves (e.g., compiling a bibliography, searching through multiple issues of a periodical)

In the event of a lengthy in-depth reference search, the librarian on duty may provide a patron with materials to help the patron start researching, then turn to assist other patrons, returning to the first patron as soon as feasible. Or the librarian on duty may request assistance from another member of the reference staff.

When the librarian on duty has several patrons needing help in person and either on the telephone or in chat, may do any or more of the following as deemed appropriate to the circumstances by the librarian:

  1. Put the caller temporarily on hold;
  2. Take the caller's or chat patron's name and contact information and call or email that person back;
  3. Encourage the caller and/or chat patron to come to the library for in-depth reference assistance if needed, if that is an option for the individual

To ensure patron privacy, any online reference queries are accessed only by ODU librarians. ODU Library retains no identifying personal information in the long term. Some e-mail with identifying information may be retained temporarily so that reference staff may refer to earlier information when answering ongoing reference questions. After 30 days, names and email addresses of any emails maintained on file are erased and only the content of the email is retained. Additionally, our chat service platform, LibraryH3lp, ensures that all chats are anonymous (read about chat anonymity here) and is private and secure

To ensure timely responsiveness to patrons, librarians monitor incoming email and chat questions while on reference duty and throughout the day monitor email and respond to queries as soon as possible, with a maximum turn-around time on emails of 1 business day, except on days when the university is closed.

Faculty/Staff Research Requests

Librarians respond in a timely manner to faculty/staff research requests, with reference service taking priority over many other duties, answering phone and email messages within one business day.


In the case of receiving questions inappropriate for Reference Services, librarians will direct a patron to a source able to answer the questions (e.g., MLA style, in which case we would refer the patron to the Academic Resource Center). 

Inappropriate Behavior

Reference librarians will deal with problem patrons in a polite but firm manner. Librarians reserve the right to terminate a phone call or virtual reference exchange in the event of abusive, obscene, threatening, or harassing messages or false identification. If a patron becomes abusive at the Reference Desk, appropriate action will be taken by calling Public Safety at 4700.

Servicing Special Needs

Reference librarians provide all patrons reference service that aims to enable the patron to participate fully in the access and use of resources offered, so far as is reasonably feasible. This includes patrons with disabilities, patrons on campus, and patrons off campus--all within the ODU community. 

Patrons with Disabilities

In keeping with ODU Library’s mission to provide personalized service and access to information for the ODU community, the reference staff is dedicated to providing ODU patrons with disabilities a quality of reference services that aims to enable them to participate fully in the access and use of resources offered, so far as is reasonably feasible. For the purposes of this policy, “disability,” “disabilities,” and “disabled” may refer to any mobility or sensory impairment.

ODU reference librarians will treat all patrons with equal dignity and respect. To meet the special needs of patrons with disabilities, reference staff will go beyond the normal level of services to make the library’s resources accessible to patrons with disabilities to the extent possible.

In complete agreement with the American Library Association on Services to Patrons with Disabilities, ODU reference librarians believe that a “person's right to use the library should not be denied or abridged because of disabilities” (1). For ODU faculty, staff, and students with a mobility or sensory impairment, reference librarians may therefore offer the following services, as needed:

  • Retrieving needed items from the stacks
  • Reading aloud headlines of online resources identified during the reference interview
  • Reading brief documents to assist in identifying resources during the reference interview
  • Assisting with photocopying, in accordance with copyright law

ODU Library Reference staff will work with the Disability Services, Academic Resource Center, and other staff to ensure disabled patrons have access to the appropriate support to enable them to use the range of reference services and library resources offered to the ODU community. If we cannot meet a patron’s needs, we will endeavor to refer the patron to an alternative access point.

Accessibility of Services

Our chat platform, LibraryHelp, offers a chat box that has been designed for accessibility to users assistive technology.At the time of this writing, LibraryHelp states that, "the chat box is designed to work with screen readers, including JAWS, and is responsive to screen magnifiers, browser zoom controls, and browser color contrast color schemes." LibraryH3lp provides a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) form and a WCAG 2.5 Checklist.

Our online meeting platform, Teams, provdies Screen Reader Support for Microsoft Teams and other accessibility support. In addition, Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Bookings, which is used to book an online Teams meeting with a librarian, have Accessibility Performance Reports available.

Legal Reference Services

Pursuant to Ohio law,(2) reference librarians can provide assistance to individuals in locating materials that might be helpful in answering a particular legal question, but by law are not permitted to interpret legal materials for patrons, give legal advice (e.g., advise as to how a law might apply to a given situation), or assist them in choosing, preparing, or filling out legal forms of any kind.

Medical Reference Services

Reference librarians provide medical reference services that include the following, in accordance with the Health and Medical Reference Guidelines from the Reference & User Services Association (RUSA) (3):

  • Complete and accurate responses to questions when possible
  • Assistance with identifying and finding relevant, credible, & authoritative sources
  • Assistance with searching in tools and resources
  • Referrals when appropriate

Reference librarians will also follow the behavioral and ethics guidelines outlined therein. 

In addition, teference librarians observe the following ethical guidelines provided by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) when answering consumer-related health questions and will: (4)

  • Provide a welcoming environment and confidentiality
  • Be sensitive of the patron and the nature of the question, engaging in empathetic, patient, and non-judgmental dialog
  • Obtain as much information as possible, cognizant of the potential seriousness of the query and the potential need for utmost accuracy and thoroughness (e.g., identifying which reading-level is needed, what types of resources might be needed, what the entire information need is)
  • Be sensitive to the limitations of medical information (divergent medical opinions, treatment options, currency, and scope) and convey these limitations to the patron
  • Provide the most complete, accurate, unbiased, and uncensored information as possible
  • Emphasize that the patron should discuss the issue and the information with a qualified health care provider
  • Provide referrals, but not recommendations, to health care provider(s) when appropriate

As stated in both the NNLM and RUSA guidelines, reference librarians are not qualified to provide a diagnosis; interpret medical information; give medical advice or opinion; or make medical or health-related recommendations. (5).

Reference Collection

To address the research needs of the ODU community, the library strives to maintain an up-to-date, relevant, and accessible collection of reference materials, including print and electronic resources.

Reference Collection Development

Reference collection development policies and procedures are outlined in the ODU Library's Collection Development Manual.

Accessibility of the Print Reference Collection

Reference materials are generally non-circulating, with the exception of items that have yellow label protectors indicating a seven-day loan for ODU faculty, staff, and students, with no renewal (refer to the Library Borrowing Policies). Additional exceptions may be made for faculty and teaching staff, depending on the nature of the materials, the projected need, and the prospective period of circulation.

A librarian may give permission for reference materials to circulate; in the case of such an exception, a reference item may circulate for 24 hours, maximum 48 hours. 


1. "Services to Persons with Disabilities: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights", American Library Association, February 2, 2009. (Accessed July 26, 2013). Document ID: 398eba54-484f-8904-692b-08e6b52f76ed.
2. “The practice of law is, 'as generally understood, the doing or performing services in a court of justice, in any matter depending therein, throughout its various stages, and in conformity with the adopted rules of procedure. But in a larger sense it includes legal advice and counsel, and the preparation of legal instruments and contracts by which legal rights are secured, although such matter may or may not be depending in a court.” Land Title Abstract & Trust Co. v. Dworken, 193 N.E. 650 (1934) at 650. 49 Corpus Juris, p. 1313. Cited by the American Bar Association. Retrieved July 5, 2013, at
3. Reference and User Services Association. Health and Medical Reference Guidelines. 2015.  Access 25 April 2016.
5. Ibid.