Research Help and Reference

CSUSM Librarians also work with the campus community by providing research and reference assistance. TAL’s research help philosophy centers on identifying user’s research needs and ensuring that they are connected with the librarian or staff member who is most appropriate for addressing the need. More general questions can be answered immediately, while some are more complex and specialized, and require a slight delay in response.  This is a departure from the traditional approach of having a librarian visibly seated at a reference desk to answer any questions from users. TAL’s reference model focuses on the philosophy that users will get the best assistance if they are connected to the person that is the best match for their particular inquiry. This may mean that help is not immediately available, but we are committed to connecting users to help within 24 hours of contacting the Research Help Desk (RHD), even on the evenings and weekends. Lastly, it is necessary to note that the TAL reference model also facilitates responsible stewardship of funds. In the traditional model, the professional librarian at the reference desk will often answer numerous questions about bathroom locations and printing, which is not the optimal use of library faculty. In TAL’s model, these more straightforward inquiries can be adeptly answered by student assistants, leaving librarians available to aid users with more complex inquiries.

At CSUSM, TAL librarians are on-call during the week to provide research and reference help. At the Research Help Desk (located on the 3rd floor of the University Library), highly trained student assistants (known as Information Assistants or “IAs”) answer virtually all directional and technology related questions. For any other type of inquiry, IAs immediately refer users to the librarian on-call. In the late evenings and on weekends, the IAs assist patrons in contacting a librarian online via chat or email. The RHD isn’t “just a desk.” On-call librarians respond to inquiries in-person but also by chat, email, and phone. Chat in particular is becoming an increasingly popular means of accessing a librarian since so many users may never come into the University Library.

Subject specialist TAL faculty also are accessible through drop-in visits, appointments, chat, email, and phone. Each subject specialist makes use of their specific knowledge about the fields they work with to ensure they are available to respond within 24 hours to user inquiries during the semester. This is an example of the thoughtful balance that TAL aims to achieve in the research help philosophy and professional practice.

TAL faculty research has focused on research help. Below is a sample of published work on research help.


Meulemans, Y.N. (2016). “High-impact Experiences: Using teaching and learning theories  in reference interactions.” In Ellis, L. (Ed.) Teaching Reference Today: New Directions and Approaches. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Chan, I., Ly, P., and Meulemans, Y.N. (2012). Extending IM beyond the reference desk: A case study on the integration of chat reference and a library-wide instant messaging network. Information Technology and Libraries. 31(3), 4-24. doi: 10.6017/ital.v31i3.2241

Meulemans, Y.N., Carr, A., and Ly, P. (2010). From a distance: Robust reference service via instant messaging. Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning, 4(1/2), 3-17. doi: 10.1080/15332901003667231

Sonntag, G., Palsson, F. (2007). No Longer the Sacred Cow – No Longer a Desk: Transforming Reference Service to Meet 21st Century User Needs. Library Philosophy and Practice.