The reference librarians treat every patron seriously, and every patron's question with respect.
The primary function of the reference librarians is to teach library patrons how to do research. This includes recommending appropriate resources which may help the patron find information on his or her topic, and teaching the patron how to select and use resources. Such customary reference tasks as looking up specific facts, definitions, or other discrete data accessible through print materials or online are a normal part of reference work. Interpreting or analyzing this data is ordinarily the patron's responsibility. Librarians do not interpret legal or medical information and do not give legal or medical advice.
Transactions at the reference desk are generally limited to teaching the task at hand, and putting it into the larger context of their research. Most transactions take less than ten minutes. For more complex research or significantly lengthier user education, individual appointments or formal research instruction may be more appropriate.
The reference librarians seek to involve patrons in the information-finding process as much as possible. Whenever practical, the librarian gives a patron instruction on the use of a given resource, while the patron does the searching. The librarian may observe the patron through the process, helping as needed, to make sure it is understood.
The reference librarians try to insure that patrons see the process involved in locating the information they need, using any appropriate tools, including not only print and online resources, but human resources, including other departments on the UM-Flint campus, in the University of Michigan system as a whole, in local or state government, and elsewhere.
The reference librarians operate collegially, and may consult one another for assistance and ideas concerning questions or problems in reference service.
Reference librarians are available for consultation by appointment on topics in their liaison areas, and, if circumstances warrant, in other areas. A list of librarians and their subject specialties is available.
The reference librarians attempt to provide assistance to all who request it, regardless of a given patron's institutional affiliation, or lack of same. In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to give priority attention to members of the UM-Flint community – who are their first priority – before helping others, even if those others were "first in line."
In-person inquiries generally take precedence over telephone, e-mail chat, texting, or other inquiries not made in person.
The reference librarians may solicit feedback from library users - did they find what they needed? Did the procedure work? - and ask them to request further assistance if they need it.
The reference librarians try to maintain consistent staffing at the reference desk during the day and most of the evening. It may sometimes be necessary to leave the desk vacant for a certain period, owing to meetings, absences, or other unusual situations.