Library background

Reference Quick Help

Librarians feel that Quickhelp has been a great addition....[and] have noticed one or two instances of Quickhelp staff perhaps trying to spend too much time with patrons and taking questions to a level which is too in-depth. While it is understandable to want to help to the best of our abilities, support staff need to continue to be aware of the limits of our mandate as outlined in the Quickhelp guidelines [next paragraph]. It is acceptable to get the patron quickly started on an in-depth ref question when the Librarian is busy, but let's remember to spend only the initial time needed, and be sure to pass that patron on to the librarian at the first possible opportunity or direct them to the librarian for further help, rather than continuing on your own. [Kate 05Oct]


Types of questions Quickhelp staff may answer, to what degree, and how [June 8, 2005]

Directional - Basic location questions
Should be able to provide complete assistance.
Eg. Locate the various collections, equipment, and software available.
Eg.Locate specific call numbers and broad subject areas.
Eg.Locate services, both in the Library and elsewhere on campus.

Directional-with-an-explanation and Service Desk related queries
Should be able to provide complete assistance
Eg. How do I find this Reserve item my instructor has?
Eg. How much are fines? How do I get a Library card? Etc.

Technical -- Tier One

Should be able to provide complete assistance at Tier One level, and call Tier Two Technical Support or Technician as needed. May consult with librarian or other staff as needed, refer patron to online helps, Technical FAQs.
Troubleshooting hardware problems and hardware instruction
Eg. How do I use? Scanners / photocopiers / M/F readers / drives
Turn machine on and off, try connections, place out of order sign on station and follow up with calling Technician or emailing Bob, Jean, and Johnny.
Troubleshooting software problems and software instruction
Eg. How do I log on? How do I log on to wireless? Where do I plug in my laptop? Get a Discovery account? Reset my password? How do I put page numbers on a document? Resize this picture? Save this file? Send this attachment?
Refer patron to online helps, FAQs. Call Blackberry Technical Support line.

Instructional – Basic “How to” questions to do with MARLIN and online resources

Should be able to provide some assistance as comfortable; refer to librarian for followup as needed.
Eg. Show patrons how to perform basic MARLIN searches, find item locations, how to use Boolean logic and truncation in searches, how to place a Hold or Interlibrary Loan request
Eg. Locate online helps, tutorials, etc.
Let the librarian know about the patron if it looks like they will need further help.

Informational – Factual questions, searching for books and articles

Should be able to provide some basic level assistance as comfortable; refer to librarian for followup as needed.
Eg. Find quick factual information online or in reference works.
Eg. Suggest appropriate databases for patron to use (start with Academic Search Elite for most), help with locating materials online or at other libraries, help with navigation in databases and other online sources.
Let the librarian know about the patron needing help, giving a summary of their question and what you have done to that point.


Can provide a basic starting point; refer to librarian as soon as possible. Must know when and how to tell patrons you cannot provide assistance and refer patron to librarian.
Eg. Suggest starting points, provide assistance as comfortable, locate online helps.
Let the librarian know about the patron needing help, giving a summary of their question and what you have started.

Quickhelp staff should always practice good Reference interviewing skills, and use each patron interaction as an opportunity to teach, rather than show, so the patron will learn to do things themselves and will not need to ask that question again. Have the patron take the mouse and do it themselves, if at all possible, rather than using the mouse yourself.

As paraprofessionals, Quickhelp staff should always practice good Reference Desk protocol.

  • Arrive for your shift quietly and work quietly on your own when not helping patrons or consulting with the librarian about patron problems.
  • Respect the librarian’s space and keep confidential anything overheard at the Ref Desk. Don’t conduct meetings with other staff at the desk.
  • Respond to requests for help from the librarian. You may be asked to instruct patrons on an M/F reader, or go upstairs with a patron to help them find something in the collection, for instance.
  • Answer the phone if the librarian is busy with "Reference Desk" and your name. If a ref question or gifts, etc. take a name and phone number and message, saying &"I am not a librarian but a librarian will get back to you".
  • Take statistics.


  • MARLIN tutorials
  • Website:
  • Workshop in August with Lyn:
    Database searching (inc.Boolean logic, truncation, etc.), The Reference interview, Reference Desk protocols
  • Workshop in August with Eileen: Reference Refresher: new databases, etc. (include Cow and Pow staff)
  • Workshop in August with Jean: Commons hardware and software; troubleshooting, FAQs, helps available, etc.

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