Guide to Reference Services at the Brown University Library

Rockefeller Reference Desk: (401) 863-2167
Sciences Reference Desk: (401) 863-3333


  1. Introduction
  2. Reference Hours
  3. Locating Library Materials
  4. Electronic Services
  5. Reference Collections
  6. Government Documents
  7. Library Use Instruction
  8. Interlibrary Loan Services
  9. Access to Other Libraries
  10. Purchase Recommendations


The Reference Desk is the place to begin when you need assistance in using the Library or in locating material for your research or information needs. The reference staff can help you master the complexities of the electronic and print resources which serve as guides to the library's collections. Whether your need is for specific information or for advice in developing a term paper, the staff can assist you in making the fullest use of available resources.

The Reference Desk in the Rockefeller Library is located on Level 1, straight ahead from the Library entrance. The Rockefeller Library houses most of the circulating collections in the humanities and social sciences. The Sciences Reference Desk is on Level A of the Sciences Library, one level down from the lobby. The focus of the Sciences Library is on the physical, biological,and medical sciences. More specialized reference collections and services are also offered in the John Hay Library, the OrwigMusic Library, the Art Slide Library, the Demography Library, and the John Carter Brown Library. Unless your need for information is in the sciences, you should begin yoursearch in the Rockefeller Library.

Literature display racks near the public service desks in all library buildings provide brochures with more detailed information about the library's facilities, services, and collections. The publications in these racks are available without charge.

Locating Library Materials

Terminals for accessing Josiah, the Brown University Library Online Catalog, are located near the reference desks of all Brown libraries. Josiah contains information on over 95% of library holdings. In May, 1989, the Library ceased filing cards in the card catalog, and Josiah became the primary source of information about newly acquired library materials. Since neither Josiah nor the card catalog is complete, you may need to become familiar with both in order to locate library materials. The card catalog is located on Level A in the Rockefeller Library Humanities Reading Room.The Reference Department can provide assistance in using these resources or in utilizing national databases such as OCLC (Worldcat ) to verify bibliographic citations and to determine which libraries in the country have added these materials to their collections.

Stack Guide - Sciences Library
Stack Guide - Rockefeller Library

Electronic Services

A full-range of electronic services are available to members of the Brown community. By searching Electronic Resources, you can find out how to access numerous abstracting and indexing services provided by the University Library, such as Medline, PAIS, MLA, OCLC (FirstSearch) databases, Britannica Online, Oxford English Dictionary, Electronic Journals and Newspapers, user guides to the databases, news, weather, and much more.

Beyond Brown provides access to internet search services, library catalogs (U.S. and worldwide), WWW servers, online resources by subject, Rhode Island internet resources, and links to associations such as the Boston Library Consortium and Center for Research Libraries.

Reference Collections

The reference areas at Rockefeller and Sciences contain most of the dictionaries, encyclopedias, periodical indexes, abstracting services, directories, manuals and bibliographies which serve as guides to the library's resources or which provide factual answers to commonly asked questions. In both libraries, some of the most frequently used reference books are adjacent to the desks and are designated as Reference Desk in the online catalog.

Government Documents

For information on Government Documents at Brown please see our Guide to Government Documents .

Library Use Instruction

Teaching library users about library research methods and about the resources available is a major reference responsibility. Reference librarians are also available for classroom instruction in library research techniques and resources. Such presentations may include a library orientation and may be tailored to the particular course; they are best done as part of a class exercise or assignment. General orientations and other special needs can be accommodated by contacting the reference staff.

If you are starting a project, term paper, senior thesis, or dissertation, and need help, the Reference department offers individualized, research consultations to work with you to determine what information the library has about your topic. Techniques about how to think critically and evaluate information sources, especially electronic materials, will also be offered. For more information, contact the Reference department at (401) 863-2167 or email your question. The library also offers a number of workshops during the academic year.

Interlibrary Loan/Document Delivery Services

Arrangements for borrowing materials not owned by the Brown University Library may be made by completing an electronic Interlibrary Loan Request Form. Items requested should be described as completely and accurately as possible. Interlibrary loan materials usually require a minimum of two weeks to arrive at Brown from the lending institution.

More information is available in the Guide to Interlibrary Loan Services.

Access to Other Libraries

Brown University Library belongs to the Boston Library Consortium. The Consortium was founded in 1970. Other members include Boston College, the Boston Public Library, Boston University, Brandeis University, the Marine Biology Library/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, MIT, Northeastern University, the State Library of Massachusetts, Tufts University, UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Lowell, the UMass Medical Center, and Wellesley College. Brown's membership entitles users to on-site use of most member libraries and borrowing privileges for qualified researchers.

Similar resource sharing agreements have been established with the Rhode Island School of Design. Academic libraries in Rhode Island allow Brown University students and faculty on-site access to their facilities with a letter of referral. Letters of referral for on-site access (not borrowing) can also be issued for other libraries, such as Harvard. Ask at the Reference desk in either the Rockefeller or Sciences Library if you wish to visit these or other institutions.

Purchase Recommendations

Students and faculty are encouraged to recommend titles for purchase by completing our Electronic Purchase Request Form. Purchase recommendations will be evaluated by Subject Specialist Librarians in terms of the appropriateness to the Brown instructional and research programs and the funds available.

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Last Updated:"Wednesday, 21-Dec-2005 10:47:39 EST"
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