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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: June 2018

5 - Information, advice and informed citizenship

from Part 2 - Service themes of the modern public library



The public library has a vital role to play as a source of trusted and impartial information within its community and in society. As discussed in Chapter 2, this role is historical and the library staff serve as the intermediaries for the user.

We all need information to go about our daily lives successfully. Yet the information needs of an entire community are potentially complex, and library users require information at different levels. Some need simple forms of information, others need more complex forms. The types of information we may need are diverse, everything from a bus or train timetable, to leaflets on benefits, legal rights, health issues and careers. This is in addition to the more common reference enquiries that libraries regularly undertake, for example checking facts in encyclopedias or directories, or telephone numbers for companies or other organizations. Public libraries provide access to these and other types of information for their communities.

Information sources selected for users need to be authoritative and accurate, and library staff need to be able to find the correct information for their users as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This chapter will discuss:

  • ■ the types of information public libraries regularly provide for users
  • ■ the ethical and service challenges in delivering information to users
  • ■ the reference interview
  • ■ the range of services provided by public libraries that can be broadly defined as information services.
  • Information types

    Staff in public libraries must be prepared for enquiries of all types and therefore provide a range of resources, such as:

  • ■ commercially produced reference books, encyclopedias and the like
  • ■ information on the local authority and other governmental sources
  • ■ information on the local history of their area
  • ■ community information
  • ■ information on genealogy and family history.
  • In addition some public libraries offer even more specialist types of reference information, for example on careers, businesses or even health via professionals qualified in the area.

    Specialist reference materials can be an expensive resource for libraries. This high cost is not only related to the limited market for the books, but is also the result of the amount of work that goes into producing many specialist reference works. A reference work loses its usefulness if it is out of date, thus many of the more staple resources for libraries are published annually.