Vol. 1 No. 1 (2016)
Peer Reviewed Articles

Reference services in liberal arts libraries

Emma Oxford
Libraries & Educational Technologies, James Madison University
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Published 2016-09-01


  • academic libraries, liberal arts, reference desk, reference services

How to Cite

Oxford, E. (2016). Reference services in liberal arts libraries. Journal of New Librarianship, 1(1), 3–27. Retrieved from https://newlibs.org/index.php/jonl/article/view/563


This study addresses a gap in the literature regarding reference services at liberal arts institutions. The author conducted a literature review to examine the existing body of research on reference services and distributed a survey to the 80 member libraries of the Oberlin Group in February 2015. The study found that a wide range of reference practices are in place at liberal arts libraries and focused especially on the use of a designated reference desk, which is widespread. However, there is a correlation between higher librarian satisfaction with reference services and the absence of a desk. Comments from respondents are included in the discussion and reflect common themes around reference services. Some limitations of the study include its small sample size and conflicting responses from librarians at the same institution. Nevertheless, this article provides a starting point for further research into liberal arts reference. The factors relating to librarian satisfaction, the themes running through the comments, and the trends discussed in the literature review may be relevant for determining the most effective reference model at any institution.