Guidelines for Information Services

Prepared by the Standards and Guidelines Committee, Reference and User Services Association, 1990, under the title, “Information Services for Information Consumers: Guidelines for Providers.”
Revised 2000 by the RUSA Access to Information Committee. Approved by the RUSA Board of Directors, July 2000.


Libraries have an inherent obligation to provide information service to support the educational, recreational, personal and economic endeavors of the members of their respective communities, as appropriate to the libraries’ individual missions. Information services in libraries take a variety of forms including direct personal assistance, directories, signs, exchange of information culled from a reference source, reader’s advisory service, dissemination of information in anticipation of user needs or interests, and access to electronic information. A library, because it possesses and organizes for use its community’s concentration of information resources, must develop information services appropriate to its community and in keeping with the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. These services should take into account the information-seeking behaviors, the information needs, and the service expectations of the members of that community. Provision of information in the manner most useful to its clients is the ultimate test of all a library does. In that spirit, these guidelines are directed to all who share responsibility for providing information services, including trustees, administrators, educators, supervisors, department heads, and information staff in all types of libraries.

By intent and by design, the guidelines below form a statement of service goals rather than a codification of practices. The reasons for casting these guidelines as goals are two: first so that this statement can enjoy a long life of usefulness to the profession and to those who libraries serve, and second, to suggest goals to managers and providers of information services. Because these guidelines must serve the needs of all types of libraries, it is recognized that not every statement in the guidelines will apply to a particular library or type of library. Therefore, in applying the guidelines, library staff will need to emphasize those statements appropriate to their particular library, its mission and the community it serves, and they should strive to realize the goals expressed in those statements.

These guidelines address information services from the following perspectives:

  1. Services
  2. Resources
  3. Access
  4. Personnel
  5. Evaluation
  6. Ethics

1.0 Services

1.1 The goal of information services is to provide the information sought by the user. Information service should anticipate as well as meet user needs. It should encourage user awareness of the potential of information resources to fulfill individual information needs.

1.2 The library should develop information, reference, and directional services consistent with the goals of the institution or community it serves.

1.3 The library should strive to provide users with complete, accurate answers to information queries regardless of the complexity of those queries.

1.4 The library should make available user aids in appropriate formats to help users identify items in the collection relevant to their interests and needs. Access guides can list hours, services, floor plans, and other pertinent data about the individual building(s). Guides can also offer assistance in using particular resources or in performing research in a specific subject area.

1.5 The library should provide instruction in the effective use of its resources. Such instruction, for example, can include the individual explanation of information resources or the creation of guides in appropriate formats, formal assistance through tours and presentations designed to provide guidance, and direction in the pursuit of information.

1.6 The library should actively publicize the scope, nature, and availability of the information services it offers. It should employ those media most effective in reaching its entire clientele or selected segments of that clientele, as appropriate.

1.7 The library should survey and assess the information needs of its community and create local information products to fulfill those needs not met by existing materials.

1.8 The library should serve its community by collecting and creating information and referral files to provide access to the services and resources of local, regional and state organizations.

1.9 Based on its clients’ known needs and interests, the library should provide information even if it has not been explicitly requested.

1.10 When information is not immediately useful as presented in its source, the library should add value to that information. This process of adding value can range from simply sorting and packaging the information to reviewing and analyzing it for library clients as appropriate.

1.11 The library should participate in consortia and networks to obtain access to information sources and services it cannot provide on its own.

1.12 When the library is not able to provide a user with needed information, it should refer either the user or the user’s question to some other agency, an expert or other library that can provide the needed information. Before referring a user to an agency, expert or other library, information services personnel should confirm that the agency, expert or library to which the user is being referred can provide the information and will extend its services to that user. When a question is referred to another agency, the referring library should follow all local, state, regional, or national protocols in effect, including those governing selection of transmittal forms and communications media.

1.13 The library should use or provide access to the information systems outside the library when these systems meet information needs more effectively and efficiently than internal resources can.

1.14 The library should develop and make available to the public a statement that describes the information services it strives to offer all members of its community.

1.15 The library should develop and make available to the public a statement of its reference service policy.

2.0 Resources

2.1 The library should collect or provide access to information resources germane to its mission and reflecting the full spectrum of the population it serves.

2.2 The library should develop an information resources collection and development policy consistent with the goals of its institution or community. These information resources should satisfy through content, currency, format, organization, and quantity a diversity of user needs.

2.3 As necessary, information services personnel should reach beyond in-house collections and in-house expertise by drawing on the resources of other organizations that collect and provide information, by consulting individual experts, and by tapping external information sources regardless of their medium.

2.4 The library should provide access to the most current reference sources available in order to assure the accuracy of information.

3.0 Access

3.1 The library should arrange information services according to a coherent plan, taking into account ready accessibility to users. The information services workspace should be large enough to accommodate staff, the collection of information resources, equipment necessary for accessing all communications and other equipment, and users seeking their services.

3.2 The library should make service areas for information services highly visible and accommodate the needs of users, including users with disabilities. Signage should unambiguously direct users to areas where they can obtain assistance in finding the information they seek.

3.3 The library should support state-of-the-art communications methods for access to information resources for all its users.

3.4 The library should provide appropriate equipment in adequate quantities and in good working order for the convenient, efficient consultation of local and remote information resources by staff and the public. This includes communications hardware and software to receive and answer queries for information from users.

3.5 Operation hours for information services should be responsive to the community’s needs and behavior and the library’s financial and personnel resources.

4.0 Personnel

4.1 The library should make available sufficient qualified personnel during the hours that best meet the information needs and expectations of the community.

4.2 Information services staff should endeavor to communicate effectively with the full range of the library’s clientele regardless of a user’s age, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, disability, or language proficiency.

4.3 Information services staff must have knowledge and preparation appropriate to meet the information needs of the clientele the library serves. Personnel responsible for information technology services should be familiar and competent in using information technology and should also possess effective interpersonal communications skills.

4.4 Continuing education of information service personnel is basic to professional growth. It is the responsibility of the individual staff member to seek continuing education and of the employing institution to support its staff’s continuing education efforts. If possible, the institution should provide continuing educational programs.

5.0 Evaluation

5.1 The library should regularly evaluate its information services to ensure that the service furthers the institution’s goals and that the goals reflect the needs and interests of the community served. Formal and informal evaluations should be used to determine the optimum allocation of resources to provide quality service.

5.2 The library should integrate the perspectives of staff and community in the overall evaluation procedure for information service.

5.3 In its evaluation of information services, the library should emphasize those factors most important to the community using those services. Among these are response time; accessibility of services (in terms of physical access, convenience of location, convenience of service hours); the value and effectiveness of services for various groups among the population served; and effectiveness in anticipating its community’s needs.

5.4 The library should gather relevant statistics for use in evaluation. The library should conduct evaluative studies using techniques and measures that will yield data comparable to those from similar institutions and addressing such national norms or common standards as may exist, modified if necessary, by local needs.

5.5 The library should evaluate individual resources within the collection based upon professional standards and users’ needs. It should also evaluate its information resources as a unified information system, including in-house print and non-print as well as accessible external resources.

5.6 The library should appraise the performance of individual information service staff members and of the collective performance of that staff at regular intervals, using recognized personnel evaluation techniques and instruments agreed to in advance by those to be evaluated and those performing the evaluation.

6.0 Ethics

6.1 The American Library Association's Code of Ethics (as stated in the ALA Policy Manual in the ALA Handbook of Organization) governs the conduct of all staff members providing information service.