Curry’s Study on the Quality of Public Library Reference Service to LGBTQ Youth




A Review of: Curry, A. (2005). If I ask, will they answer? Evaluating public library reference service to gay and lesbian youth. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45(1), 65-75. Retrieved from


Objective - To assess the quality of service provided by reference staff in public libraries when presented with a request for LGBTQ information by a young person.

Design - Unobtrusive observation without informed consent. Setting - Public library branches in the greater Vancouver area, British Columbia, Canada.

Subjects - Reference librarians.

Methods - A 19-year-old posing as a high school student approached reference desk staff at 20 public library branches. The student proxy, “Angela”, was instructed to ask for books on forming a gay-straight alliance at her school and, if there was a full reference interview, to also ask for recommendations of novels that the group might read. She recorded the reactions, both verbal and nonverbal, using Reference and User Services Association guidelines as a template. Library administrators were aware of the potential visits and permitted the research, but the reference desk staff were not aware of a potential visit by the student proxy. The researcher claimed that her method, while deceptive, was necessary to obtain authentic reactions from the library staff.

Main Results - Most reference librarians approached by Angela made adequate attempts to assist her, although a few library staff reacted negatively to her query. Half of the librarians reacted positively to the patron’s request, with most of the others providing neutral responses. Very few of the librarians actually taught the patron how to use the library’s catalog to search for materials, and most of the librarians were unable to find appropriate materials due to not knowing the appropriate search terms. Only three library staff showed overt disapproval of the search topic, such as frowning or rushing to finish the reference interview quickly, with most remaining objective or supportive. Because of the service she received, Angela stated that eight of the 20 libraries were welcoming enough that she thought she would return.

Conclusion - The wide range of responses received by Angela indicated that there was room for improvement in educating public library staff on gay and lesbian issues and materials, especially for gay and lesbian youth.


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Author Biography

Gregg A Stevens, Stony Brook University

Health Sciences Librarian Senior Assistant Librarian




How to Cite

Stevens, G. A. (2018). Curry’s Study on the Quality of Public Library Reference Service to LGBTQ Youth. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 13(1), 57–63.



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