Loyola University Chicago Libraries

Graduate Reference Assistant - Reference Training: Referrals

Referral Basics

One of the goals of this pilot is to learn more about the types of research and reference services that can be offered to library users by student employees who are working without the support of a full-time library staff member, as well as what training and resources these students will need. To meet that goal, we will test different referral policies for the students working at Cudahy Circulation. 


Why is it important to refer questions to a librarian, even if the student worker is able to provide assistance to the user?


  • It's important for librarians to understand the needs and expectations of library users in order to contribute to library management and planning, as well as for providing input on collection development. 
  • Librarians can determine if additional services can be provided, such as the offer to purchase a title and notify the patron of its arrival or the option to give permission to borrow a non-circulating material. 
  • Librarians are kept informed about new resources and work to maintain a broad knowledge of reference tools and sources. 
  • Many library users don't differentiate between a graduate student assistant and a professional librarian. If a graduate student assistant attempts and fails to answer a difficult question, the user may not recognize that additional help is available.  
  • Helps to maintain a smooth flow of traffic for basic and directional questions. 


What Types of Questions Should I Attempt to Answer? (Level 1 Questions)

  1. Initial reference interview
  2. Known item searches
    1. An information source that a library user already knows something about and is trying to locate. 
  3. Accessing full text for e-resources (journal articles, e-books, streaming video, etc.)
  4. Assistance with ILL and document delivery
  5. Locating books and print journal issues in Cudahy Library
  6. Identifying appropriate research guides, library tutorials, and help materials
    1. Examples - Psychology libguide, Refworks tutorial, Purdue OWL
  7. Identifying an appropriate library database and demonstrating a basic search
  8. Questions about library services
  9. Referrals to other university services and departments

What Types of Questions Should I Refer? (Level 2 Questions)

You will need to conduct a reference interview with each library user to determine whether or not you need to make a referral. Generally speaking, you should refer the follow types of questions:

  1. Refer any question that is clearly not a level 1 Question.
  2. Questions about a research topic, as opposed to known items. 
    1. For questions like these, you should direct the user to an appropriate research guide and / or library database, and demonstrate how to perform a basic search, and then suggest that the user may want additional help from a librarian. 
  3. Questions that stretch on past 8-10 minutes. 
    1. If it's taking a long time to answer a question, it's often a good idea to ask for help. 

It's not always easy to draw a line, but questions that are more open ended than a known item search should be referred. 

Known Item Search: "I'm looking for a copy of Hamlet by William Shakespeare."

Research Topic Question: "I'm looking for articles about Hamlet by Williams Shakespeare."

Grey Area: "I'm looking for a scholarly edition of Hamlet by William Shakespeare." 

  • In this example, the question is close to a known item search, because the user knows the name of the book and the author. But it also has elements of a research topic question, because there may be several different scholarly editions of Hamlet to choose from, and the user may need help from a librarian to understand which is the appropriate source. 
  • In this case, you could help the patron use the library catalog and try different search terms to identify a scholarly edition, but eventually refer the patron to a librarian for follow up.  


How to make a referral

There are two primary options when making a referral:

  1. Refer the user to the staff working at the IC Reference Desk and/or chat reference to get help right away.
  2. Refer the user to a subject specialist librarian email or cud-ref@luc.edu to get help in the next 24 business hours. 

When you determine that it's appropriate to make a referral, offer the user the options:

"The subject specialist librarian for that topic will be able to provide specialized research help for your question. Would you like to receive a follow up email from that librarian in the next 24 hours? If that doesn't suit your schedule, you can also get help from the library staff on duty in the Information Commons right now."

If the user would like to get help right away, offer two additional choices:

"You can go over to the IC 2nd floor and talk to the library staff at the reference desk. I'll let them know that you're on your way, and explain what we've already worked on. But if you'd prefer, you can also chat with them online from one of the computers here in Cudahy."

If the user would prefer to follow up with a subject specialist librarian, you'll need to follow several steps:

  1. Identify the appropriate subject specialist from the list on the library website: http://libraries.luc.edu/specialists 
    1. If you're trying to decide between two different librarians, you can contact both of them. 
    2. If you're just not sure which librarian to contact, send the referral email to cud-ref@luc.edu
    3. If the student is working on a UCWR paper, send the referral email to cud-ref@luc.edu
  2. Send an email from the cudahyrefgrads outlook account, rather than your personal account. 
  3. In the email, include a brief description of the user's question and any steps you took working with the student. 
  4. Copy the user on the email, so they have a record of the interaction and the subject specialist librarian's contact information. 


Lewis Library