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Referred Reference Questions: How Well Are They Answered?

ByTerence Crowley

Patrons of public libraries ask all sorts of reference questions, including some which cannot be answered, at least with local library resources. In some libraries which belong to cooperative systems, a proportion of these unanswered questions are referred to other, usually larger libraries which have been designated as referral centers. Often the Headquarters Library of the system, the referral-or second level-center has larger collections of reference material, a staff trained in reference work, and, increasingly, access to online databases and long distance telecommunications. At most second level centers the questions are either answered or returned, but in California, there is a third level to which referral centers can themselves refer. In Los Angeles, the Southern California Answer Network fulfills this function for Southern California, while in the North, the Bay Area Reference Center serves Central and Northern California system.