The Mystery of Half-Right Reference


  • Leah Dudak Syracuse University iSchool



reference, library history, public libraries, academic libraries, library research


It is common knowledge, in both academic and public libraries, that only 50% of library reference questions are answered correctly. While this statistic continues to be treated as fact - where does it come from, and why do we continue to treat it as fact?

A 1985 study, “Improving Reference Performance: Results of a Statewide Study,” examined the accuracy of reference answers in the Maryland Public Library system and found that 55% of reference questions were answered correctly.  However, these results are now outdated, both in time and in interpretation. Some answers that may have been considered incorrect by the study in 1985, like leading a patron to a source or giving a referral, would be considered teaching and correct answers today. As such, the myth half-right reference needs to be recontextualized and reexamined.


Crowley, T. (1985). Half-Right Reference: Is It True? RQ, 25(1), 59–68.

Gers, R., & Seward, L. J. (1985). Improving Reference Performance: Results of a Statewide Study. Library Journal, 110(18), 32.

Wong, M. A., Saunders, L., & Smith, L. C. (Eds.). (2020). Reference and information services: An introduction (Sixth edition). Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.






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