15. Reference Services

Accurate and efficient reference service is provided in person, by telephone, and via email using the library's e-Reference service, to library users by professional librarians and trained paraprofessionals.

The Lawrence Headquarters Branch maintains an extensive reference collection. Its reference department is staffed by reference librarians to assist in-house patrons, answer phone questions and provide reference support services to reference staff in the branches. The Headquarters reference collection includes New Jersey specific materials, business, genealogy and local history items. The Township of Lawrence Historian's Office also maintains a small room at the HQ Branch. When the resources of the library cannot satisfy a request for information, it may be referred to other libraries throughout the state through library networking. Users are also referred directly to appropriate agencies; however, the reference staff does not mediate between users and these agencies.

Priority is given to in-person requests over telephone requests. Staff assists users in looking up desired materials, using the computer catalog and in locating items on the shelves. If the Mercer County Library System does not own the requested material, an attempt will be made to obtain the material through Interlibrary Loan (see section on ILL).

Staff provide answers to "ready reference" types of inquiries, including directions, general information concerning library services, and questions involving specific facts, which can be readily determined from standard sources. For inquiries that require longer, more detailed answers, or extensive searching or interpretation of materials, the staff assists the user in selecting the most appropriate sources and offers instruction in the use of these sources selected for the search.

The amount of time that a staff member can spend assisting individual users is necessarily limited by the needs of other users. Time limits vary according to the complexity of materials to be used, library experience of the user, the number of other users needing assistance and the number of staff available to help users.

Branch staff will assist users within the confines of the branch's collection. Staff will call or refer patrons to the Lawrence Headquarters for more extensive reference assistance.

Staff cannot offer appraisals of rare books, coins, stamps, antiques, etc. Nor can they recommend specific titles for purchase on a given topic. A staff member will help the user locate printed sources, reviews and evaluations. Users are urged to inspect each title personally to determine if it meets their individual needs.

Staff can provide short, factual information to answer medical, financial, or consumer review questions or provide specific citations regarding legal questions and direct patrons to tax information in the library's resources. Advice, interpretations and opinions cannot be provided. The staff assists users in locating and using items in the library collection, but cannot engage in genealogical research for users. Staff can provide answers to trivia, game and contest questions that require simple factual information from a standard source. However, those users who require lengthy searches are offered guidance in locating likely sources for their answers.

Staff provide users needing translations with appropriate dictionaries as available in the collection. They will assist users in locating translators by request.

Staff can provide limited instruction on the use of personal computers and electronic devices, but cannot offer advice on repairs, software installation, or product recommendations. The information and instruction offered by library staff is exclusively demonstrative in nature, and is intended to solely acquaint patrons with the operation of electronic devices in general, or the installation and use of applications, programs and related software. Actual implementation, modification, or use of any device, application, program, or other software shall be undertaken by the patron on the patron's own initiative, who shall be solely responsible for the consequences of any such use, modification or installation. The library system and its staff assume no responsibility for the functioning or consequences of any application, program, or other software installed or utilized by any patron, or for the interaction of such material with any electronic device.

School assignments are often designed to teach students to locate and interpret information. The staff provides guidance in locating, and instruction in using, sources of information. Short, factual answers such as names, dates, or the spelling of a word are provided unless it appears that the intent of the assignment is to train students in the use of reference sources.

Telephone Reference Service

As part of its service to the public, the staff takes requests for information by telephone and responds as time permits. As stated above, the staff gives priority to in-person requests over telephone requests. Telephone reference may be limited to three inquiries per day.

  • Search Parameters: The staff provides telephone reference service for short, factual inquiries that do not require extensive searches, interpretations, or the reading of long passages over the telephone. Sources consulted are cited. If research and interpretation is needed, the librarians will cite sources of information and invite users to come to the library to examine the materials
  • Holds: Holds are limited to three per caller
  • Medical Questions: Telephone reference for medical or drug questions are limited to those which require only a short definition or description that can be quoted verbatim without interpretation by the librarian
  • Legal Questions: Telephone reference service for legal questions is limited to reading specific short citations or definitions without interpretation by the librarian
  • Street Address Directory: Street address inquiries are limited to three per caller
  • Stock Quotes: Stock quotes are limited to three per caller
  • Periodical Searches: The staff will check three issues of a newspaper or magazine for requested information, as time permits
  • Product Information: Product rating and recommendations may be given by telephone when a printed source is readily available and brief
  • School Assignments: Up to three short factual answers per student can be given over the telephone. Long passages cannot be read


MCLS staff can provide brief answers to factual reference questions and suggest sources to meet your information needs, via the internet. When appropriate, the reference staff will email attachments in response to a query.

Library Website and Social Media

The Mercer County Library System views the internet as another opportunity to serve its patrons, offering patrons, through our website, catalog, blog, and social media sites, up to date information regarding our branches, programs and services, our online catalog and patron account access, and a host of electronic reference resources are posted on these sites.

A. Other Related Services


The staff will set aside materials they have located for patrons to copy when they come into the library. Public copiers are conveniently located in all of the branches. Copies are $.10 per page. Color copies are not available.

Notary Public Services

The Mercer County Library System offers limited, free notary service, by appointment, to all Mercer County residents.

  • Library notaries are scheduled during the library's hours of operation, by appointment. Notary services are not available in the fifteen (15) minutes prior to the time of closing.
  • Valid photographic identification is required of any customer seeking notary services.
  • Notary services are limited to three documents per person, per visit.
  • The library will not provide witnesses and witnesses may not be solicited from patrons using the library. In order to serve as a witness, the witness must personally know the person whose document is being notarized and must be in possession of a valid photographic identification.
  • New Jersey law requires that a notary must be able to read the documents tobe notarized. Library notaries cannot notarize documents written in languages unfamiliar to them.
  • New Jersey law requires that a notary and the customer seeking notarization must be able to communicate directly with each other.
  • Library notaries are not permitted to make use of a translator to communicate with a notary service customer.
  • Notary Service is not available for all documents. Deeds, Wills, Living Wills, Living Trusts, Codicils, Form I-9's, Depositions, and electronic banking documents of any kind, are examples of types of documents we cannot notarize as these can require technical or legal knowledge and are beyond the scope of this simple, free service. Please check our website for the full list of items for which notary service is not available.
  • Although the notary cannot attest to true copies of passports, driver's licenses, etc., the notary will issue a notarized Affidavit of True Copy, which places the responsibility on the person making the copy. Please be aware, should you require a true copy of a birth, death, or marriage certificate with a raised seal, these official copies must come from the appropriate agency.
  • In accordance with New Jersey Notarial Law, notaries will not provide service if the customer, document or circumstances of the request for notary service raises any issue of authenticity, ambiguity, doubt or uncertainty for the library. In this event, the library notary may, at their sole discretion, decline to provide notary service.

The library advises notary service customers to come prepared for notary services:

  • DO NOT sign your document in advance. All documents must be signed in the presence of the notary.
  • All document signers must personally appear before the notary.
  • The notary will ensure that the signer understands the title of the document and is signing freely and willingly.
  • The New Jersey State Treasurer has determined that the following must be performed in any notary acknowledgement transaction: "the notary will review the document presented for completeness. This is not a formal legal review, such as would be performed by an accountant or an attorney. Rather, it is a review to ensure that there are no blanks in the document. Should blanks be discovered, the signer must either fill them in or strike them out by drawing a line or "X" through them."
  • The notary will establish the identity of each signer through personal knowledge or with valid identification documents. Identification must have both a photo and signature.
  • The notarial certificate will be completed. This may include requiring the signer to give a verbal oath or acknowledgment.
  • The notary will use their stamp or seal on the document.

Museum Passes

The Mercer County Library System makes available various museum passes at no cost to MCLS patrons with the following guidelines. The Museum Pass program is made possible through the generous donations of library support groups.

  • MCLS Patrons in good standing and 18 years of age and older may check out a museum pass with their valid MCLS library card.
  • Passes may be reserved 45 days in advance online through the library's website or in person at any branch. The date of your reservation is the first day you may pick up the pass.
  • Passes must be picked up and returned only to the owning branch of MCLS. Passes may be returned in the book drop of the owning MCLS branch.
  • Patrons may not check-out the same museum pass multiple times within a 40 day period.
  • Passes are checked-out for a three-day loan period and are not renewable. For example, if a pass is reserved to be picked up on a Friday it must be returned Sunday, regardless whether it was checked out on Friday or Saturday. If the branch is closed the due date, the pass must be returned in the book drop on that date.
  • The extended use fee for an overdue museum pass is $5.00 per day, with a maximum fine of $25. The charge for a lost museum pass is a $10 processing fee plus any extended use fees and replacement cost of the pass.
  • If you fail to pick up a reserved pass twice in a 45 day period you will be blocked from reserving passes for 45 days.
  • If you reserve a pass and then change your plans, you may cancel your reservation by calling any library branch.
  • We advise patrons to check the website of each museum or call before your visit to find out about current hours, unscheduled or unlisted closures, restrictions, special exhibits and information on public transit options.

Interlibrary Loan

The Mercer County Library System (MCLS) provides an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service to borrow materials from libraries outside of the MCLS at no charge to accommodate the needs of patrons. The following regulations apply to the ILL service:

  • Requests: MCLS will accept three (3) active ILL item requests and three (3) active ILL article requests per patron at one time.

    • "Active" ILL requests include ILL requests that have been submitted as well as ILL items that are on hold or checked-out.
    • Up to three (3) ILL requests will be accepted by phone, email or the online ILL Request Form, which can be found on the MCLS website.
    • ILL requests that exceed the total number of three (3) allowed will not be accepted by the ILL Department until at least one (1) ILL request has been cancelled or one (1) ILL item has been returned.

  • Borrowing Restrictions: MCLS will not initiate ILL requests for fiction DVDs and Blu-rays, music CDs, Playaways, Launchpads, or video games of any type. The library will first attempt to borrow from public, private and academic libraries located within New Jersey.

  • Borrowing Fees: MCLS does not charge ILL borrowing fees to patrons for submitting ILL requests except when the patron would prefer to have their ILL article request be printed out for pick-up at a designated branch.

    • The costs associated with printing articles obtained through ILL is $0.10 per page in black and white ink and $0.50 per page in color ink.
    • The ILL Department will email the article to the patron at no charge unless the patron otherwise notes in their original ILL request that they would prefer to have the article printed and sent to their designated branch for pick-up.
    • Patrons must pay any print fees associated with the ILL article at the time of the article's pick-up at their designated branch.

  • Lending Fees: In some instances, there is an ILL lending fee imposed by the lending library to send an item or article through ILL.

    • The ILL Department will always try first to obtain an item or article at no cost to the patron before contacting the patron regarding a potential lending fee.
    • Patrons will not be charged lending fees unless they first agree to submit payment for the fee upon pick-up or receipt of the item or article.
    • The patron is always responsible for this fee and may stipulate the maximum they are willing to pay in their original ILL request.

  • Holds: Once an item obtained through ILL has become available for pick-up at a branch, patrons will have five (5) working days to pick up the item at that branch before the item is sent back to the ILL Department and returned to the lending library.

    • Patrons must designate the MCLS branch where the ILL item is to be picked-up at the time of their original ILL request.
  • Check-outs: ILL items circulate for four (4) weeks and are not automatically renewable.

  • Renewals: If a patron would like to renew an ILL item, they should make an official request through the ILL Department by phone or email at least three days prior to the ILL item's due date to determine if a one-time renewal is possible.

    • One-time renewals on ILL items may range from one (1) week to four (4) weeks depending on the new due date dictated by the lending library of the item.
    • Once a request for renewal has been made by a patron, the ILL Department will extend the due date of the ILL item by one (1) week from the day the renewal was requested while the ILL Department waits to receive a response from the lending library regarding whether or not the item is renewable.

  • Returns: Items borrowed by patrons through ILL must be returned to a MCLS branch. The ILL Department will return ILL items to their lending libraries.

  • Overdue Fees: The fine for any overdue ILL item is $0.25 per day.

  • Barred Status: Accounts for patrons who do not return ILL items are subject to being placed into "barred" status, regardless of whether or not the fines associated with the ILL item exceed $25.00, preventing the patron from using their account until the item has been returned and the overdue fees associated with the ILL item have been paid.

    • A patron who has an ILL item overdue longer than two weeks will be notified by the ILL Department that they must return the item before the following week or their account will be barred.
    • A patron who has an ILL item checked-out longer than three weeks overdue will be barred until they return the ILL item or request a one-time renewal on the item, and pay the overdue fines associated with the ILL item.

  • Lost & Damaged Fees: The patron is responsible for all fees charged by the lending library for lost or damaged ILL items while those items remain checked-out to the patron.

  • Suggestions for Purchase: Upon review of an ILL request and at the discretion of the MCLS, the MCLS may decide to purchase an item requested through ILL rather than fulfill the request through ILL.

    • If MCLS purchases the requested item, the patron will be placed on hold for the item.
    • If the MCLS does not purchase the requested item, the Reference Department will re-submit the request as an ILL request, which ILL will attempt to fill.

Home Borrowers Delivery Service

The home borrowers delivery service provides direct delivery service of library materials to library patrons who are homebound, by volunteers who select the materials. Anyone with a valid Mercer County Library System library card, who is temporarily or permanently homebound, may utilize this service. Patrons may contact the Reference Department at the Lawrence Headquarters Branch or their home branch library for further details.

Email Notification

Patrons who have provided their email address will receive a courtesy email notification of overdue items, an item placed on reserve, and expired hold notices. Patrons will also receive courtesy emails indicating material will be due soon, due today, and then an overdue notification of items that are overdue. Patrons with email notification will also receive card expiration notices and can register for library email blasts and e-newsletters. To opt-out of email notification, patrons may speak to a staff member at any library branch.

Examination Proctoring

In all events of proctoring, MCLS does not charge fees for proctor service; any and all expenditures discussed here are solely for printing, mailing, or reproducing test materials.

MCLS will proctor two types of exams:

  1. Print examinations that are pre-printed and designed to be completed on paper or examinations received electronically from the educational institution by email or electronic download, which are then printed. Printed exams are mailed to the testing institution in their entirety, together with a postage paid return envelope or, if accepted by the institution, returned electronically after having been scanned and uploaded to an approved site, or scanned and sent to the institution as an attachment to an email message (please note that students are responsible for any printing costs associated with the test).

  2. Online at the educational institution's website, or at a surrogate site approved by the examining institution. Online exams may include unique or specific technical requirements. These requirements should be reviewed with the Reference Department, who will in turn consult with the library's Information Technology Department, at least one month prior to the administration of the exam, and preferably as soon as any requirement regarding the exam are forwarded to the proctoring branch. Staff at the branches should not attempt to install or alter software on the public or staff PCs in order to administer an exam.

Returning a Completed Exam

Staff will use the envelope and postage provided by the institution. If an envelope and postage are not provided by the institution, neither the mailing enclosure nor the postage will be provided by MCLS; both the mailing enclosure and the postage must be provided by the student to the library personnel administering the examination prior to the commencement of the examination; if the student does not have the requisite mailing enclosure and sufficient postage, the student will not be permitted to take the examination until she or he produces the requisite postage-paid enclosure and postage. In such a case, the examination will be held for 30 days, after which it will be returned to the examining authority or disposed of. In all events, no student will be permitted to place in an enclosed mailer, transport to a mailing site, or otherwise take custody of an examination that has been deemed completed.

At the conclusion of any test, the student will have no further contact with the testing material , nor its return mailing enclosure (if applicable). Library personnel will mail/return the exam as per the educational institution's instructions. Students may in no way photograph, photocopy, or otherwise reproduce by mechanical or written means, any portion of the completed exam.

B. Circulation of Reference Materials

In general, reference materials are maintained permanently inside the library building so that the resources will be accessible to as many users as possible while the library is open. Many reference tools cannot be taken from the building without causing a severe inconvenience to other library users. The reference needs of the majority are given priority over the needs of the individual. However, since some reference materials are much less in demand than others, some branches may choose to have select reference materials circulate overnight, one per patron, with permission from the Branch Manager or the Reference staff.

C. Reserve Collection for School Assignments

At the request of the faculty or media specialists in schools in participating municipalities, staff may set aside reserve materials to support assignments involving large numbers of students. The materials will be set-aside for the duration of the assignment and must be used in the library. We encourage communication between local schools and the library system by providing fax, phone or email homework / assignment alert sheets.

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