Reference Policy

Reference service is the assistance given to customers in pursuit of information. It may include providing help with the Library catalog or databases, readers’ advisory, referrals to other organizations or sources or assistance with technology. The Library also provides individual and group instruction as well as online classes and may refer customers to those or other resources.

A current Library card may be required in order to use certain resources, including the Library’s computers.

Library records associating the names of Library users with specific materials, computer 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 user or pursuant to a court order.

Customers present in the building have priority for service over telephone calls or other methods of communication. City of St. Louis residents and Library cardholders have priority over other customers. Customers contacting the Library from outside the St. Louis area may be redirected to their home libraries.

Levels of reference assistance 

Staff may direct customers to the Library’s catalog, databases, events, online classes, or print resources, or to outside agencies or websites. If the resource is in-house, staff may provide basic instruction to help a new user begin to understand the resource.

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 Library’s reference assistance. However, some departments at Central Library can assist customers with performing more in-depth research.

The Library offers basic instruction in the use of bibliographic and reference tools. This instruction may be provided to individuals or groups. 

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.

Not in Scope
Some inquiries are outside the scope and expertise of the Library.  These include but are not limited to: 

  • appraisals
  • research for commercial purposes
  • computer software assistance beyond the basics
  • genealogical family histories or in-depth family research
  • medical, legal, financial, and tax advice
  • writing, typing, or editing documents
  • translations
  • tutoring 

Adopted by the Board of Directors Feb. 5, 2024.

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