Reference and Information Services Policy


Reference service is the assistance given to customers in pursuit of information. A reference question is defined by the Missouri State Library as an informational contact that involves knowledge, recommendations, interpretation, or instruction by a Library staff member on the use of one of more information sources.

Reference includes providing help with the Library catalog, reader’s advisory, database, interlibrary loan requests, referrals to other organizations or sources, research, school assignments, and consumer information. The Library also provides individual and group instruction.


Customers do not need to be registered Library cardholders to use reference materials and services. A current Library card may be required in order to use certain Library resources, including the Library’s computers.


Library records associating the names of Library users with specific materials, computer database searches, interlibrary loan transactions, reference queries, requests, or other specific uses of the Library, are confidential in nature. This information will be disclosed only upon the request or consent of the affected individuals or pursuant to a court order that shows cause and is in proper form as required by local, state or federal law. 


The Library responds to all requests for reference and information services whether made in person, by telephone, by mail, or via electronic means. Customers present in the building have priority for service over telephone calls or other methods of communication. St. Louis residents and Library cardholders have priority over other customers.



Research assistance involves the in-depth coverage of a topic. The level of assistance provided varies according to the availability of staff, the staff’s and customer’s knowledge of the subject, the volume of other customer requests, the depth of the Library’s relevant resources, the complexity of the question, and the timeframe in which the information is needed.

Lengthy research for individual customers which requires extensive staff time to collect data from multiple sources, including bibliographic searches, electronic searches, copying of materials and collating items, is not normally provided as part of the St. Louis Public Library’s research assistance.


The Library offers basic instruction in the use of bibliographic and reference tools. This instruction may be provided to individuals or groups. In the normal course of reference assistance, customers are not required to learn how to use source materials. However, in some cases, staff will need to instruct customers on how to use the tools and technologies to meet the customer’s information needs.

Staff will offer group orientations and instruction in the use of the Library catalog, electronic products, and other resources. Staff may conduct tours appropriate to the age and interests of a group. The size and number of group tours conducted are dependent on the resources of the location and the availability of staff. Groups with scheduled appointments receive first priority of service.

Limited Questions

Library staff attempt to answer all questions. However, some services are outside the scope and expertise of the Library.  These include: 

  • Appraisals
  • Computer questions that include in-depth training
  • Genealogical family histories or in-depth family research
  • Medical, legal, and tax questions in the domain of trained or licensed professionals
  • Private tutoring assistance
  • Editing documents
  • Translations

Adopted by the Board of Directors, June 2019

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