No matter the type of library, most librarians can agree with Edward Evans and Sandra M. Heft that two of the primary responsibilities of a library are “to provide access to information in all its many forms and formats . . . [and] to provide assistance in locating specific pieces of information sought by individuals in the service population.” These responsibilities—access and assistance—are constant over time and over all types of libraries.
Accountability to external stakeholders concerning the expenditure of scarce funds has also resulted in increases in quality. And the availability of virtual reference services (chat and e-mail) has expanded opportunities for assistance. It is no longer synchronous (face-to-face or via telephone). Another important point is that these primary purposes represent the consensus of librarians and not that of the community to be served, nor that of the community’s decision makers.
Both access and assistance are concepts open to wide interpretation based on stakeholders’ perspectives. Access can mean entry into the library building, use of some information on the library’s home page, use of an information resource provided by the library from virtually anywhere around the world, or use of an item owned by a far-distant library. Assistance can mean pointing out the location of an atlas or preparing a long bibliography. The way that those responsibilities are carried out distinguishes one organization or information unit from another. The successful fulfillment of these responsibilities constitutes mission accomplishment for the organization.