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Lansing Community College Library

Reference & Instruction Guide: E-mail

Policies, procedures, best practices and training guide, for reference and instruction services.


E-mail reference is carried out using RefChat 24/7 reference service software. Librarians respond to e-mail reference questions within 24 hours. If no librarian is scheduled on Sunday or if the library is closed on Sunday, e-mails received after 4:00 pm on Saturday will be answered on Monday. E-mails from patrons should contain the following information:

  • Patron name
  • E-mail address
  • Telephone number
  • A subject heading or description of the project or course name
  • The question, including sources already checked

Librarians at LCC answer a variety of questions by e-mail. Primarily, the goals of e-mail reference are to:

  • Help users learn to find information
  • Provide support to faculty seeking particular resources
  • Suggest appropriate resources
  • Answer brief questions

In teaching information literacy, guide patrons to the source when the requested information can be found, rather than supplying the answer. Always provide directions on accessing the library's resources.

When receiving a reference question by e-mail, librarians may reply immediately to indicate that they have received the question and are working on it. Further information can be obtained by conducting a reference interview via e-mail. E-mail reference interviews can be tricky and time consuming. Remember the steps used in face to face interviewing (paraphrase, ask open questions, clarify, verify, get all needed information, follow up, and closure). Maintain good interpersonal communication during the process and call the patron if necessary.

Be concise and coherent with answers, but maintain a personable and friendly tone. Patrons should be guided to the full range of sources, both print and online. Make sure you inform the patron about resources available on the library's website.

Best Practices

  • Have I addressed the student by name?
  • Have I begun my reply with a restatement of the student's question?
  • Have I addressed every part of the student's question?
  • Have I thanked the student for their question?
  • Have I closed with an encouraging tone and suggested that the student use any of our Ask a Librarian options for further / future assistance?
  • Have I done a draft using either Word or the drafts folder within the e-mail? Have I put my name on it?
  • Have I detailed steps in linear form (numbers or bullets)?
  • Have I used plenty of white space?
  • Have I used concise (but friendly) language?
  • Have I used clear transition words? 
  • Have I included all of the steps?
  • Have I included screen shots or visual descriptions as appropriate?
  • Have I written the response in second person, rather than first person?
  • Have I avoided using library jargon or explained any necessary jargon?
  • Have I asked for more clarification of the student's topic when needed?
  • Have I included links to useful research guides?
  • Have I named specific databases, explained why they are relevant, and included directions?
  • Have I explained the use of database subject categories?
  • Have I suggested possible search phrases and keywords?
  • Have I explained Boolean searching and given an example?
  • Have I suggested the use of a multisearch?
  • Have I included information about evaluating sources, the distinction between scholarly and popular sources, and the use of Ulrich's?
  • Have I included a suggestion to search in our catalog?
  • Have I included ILL / MeLCat information?
  • Have I rechecked the student's original search?
  • Have I explained the advantages of learning the search process?
  • Have I provided navigation directions so the student can find the information again by themselves?
  • Have I re-read the text before copying / pasting it into the reply?
  • Have I provided information about LCC username and password when necessary?
  • Have I checked the student's original search?
  • Have I asked for more clarification of the student's topic when needed?
  • Have I provided ways to follow up with the library or provided appropriate referrals?


Problem Report Emails

If someone is trying to get the full-text of an article and has difficulty, they have the option to send us an email to report the problem. It will be sent to LibAnswers as an email question. Below is a screenshot of the find full-text webpage.

Problem Reports

The message in LibGuides looks like this:

Problem Link Report