Library Committee Handbook

Reference Services Committee

Reference Referral Policy

Reference Referral Policy

Posted 02/07/12


This document details how to make referrals at all levels of reference experience and training, from undergraduate Student Assistants through Subject Specialists.  Individual guidelines below indicate which of the following groups the directions are intended for:


A referral occurs when one reference person consults with another to help answer a patron’s question.  Referrals can happen in all formats of reference (in person, chat, email, telephone, etc.).  Referrals include:

A referral is a collegial way to meet a patron’s information needs most effectively.  Our patrons ask a variety of interdisciplinary questions, and the University of Illinois library system has a wealth of subject expertise to help our users.  A referral does not represent a failure on the part of an individual to adequately answer a question, but is rather another tool in the quest to best answer each question received.


When to refer

Referrals should occur when the initial reference person answering the question is unsure how to proceed, or feels that additional specialized assistance would benefit the patron.

Criteria to Consider:


Library reference services always should notify patrons that there is also a subject specialist (or specialists) available who can provide more in-depth research assistance for their topic, should they desire.

Whom to refer to


How to refer

Always check with another subject specialist/unit before sending them a patron.  It is important to make sure that the other unit has the materials and/or staff available to answer the patron’s question.

Check to see if an appropriate subject specialist is physically available using the Reference Referral database to identify and contact the appropriate person or unit

  1. If a subject specialist is physically available, describe the question and the work you have done so far to the subject specialist;
    1. Ask to see if/when the subject specialist is available to meet with the patron, and the preferred contact method (in person, phone, email, etc.)
    2. Give the patron the contact information (Name and Email required)  for the subject specialist, as determined in b. above
  2. If a subject specialist is not immediately available:
    1. Use the Reference Referral database to give the patron the contact information for the person you want to refer them to, including preferred method of contact
    2. Fill out an online referral form (see below) and send to the appropriate subject contact person/unit.  Patron and staff member are cc’d by default.


Receiving Referrals


Answering the Question and Further Referrals