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Reference Wizardry! 12/5/2022 Webinar

The Reference Interview

The most important part of any reference interaction is the reference interview. And yet sometimes, these conversations can be the hardest part of your day because the patron doesn't quite know what they're asking for! Here's a quick guide to help you get started. 

Step 1: Greeting

It's vital to appear approachable to patrons, even if you're busy working on daily tasks. Take a second to make eye contact with those in front of you if you can and ask how you can help them in a friendly manner. Keep in mind what types of interactions you've enjoyed as a customer in the past and try to replicate those experiences.

Step 2: Listen Actively

After concentrating on hearing the patron's request, repeat it back to them to be sure that you've heard it correctly. Remember to pay attention to your body language and convey that you are paying attention.

Step 3: Gather Information and Ask Questions

Start to gather as much information about the patron's request by:

  • asking "can you tell me more about your topic?" Open-ended questions are key when you start gathering information about what a patron is looking for.
  • asking if this is for a school paper or project, which may help you with...(see bullet point below)
  • determining politely why they need the information. Some take offense to this question, so tread carefully. Always remind them that you're not judging, you're simply trying to determine a time frame for how quickly we need our hands on the resources or if we have time to wait for holds to arrive.
  • figure out what type of material or resource they need.

Step 4: Determine What The Patron Has Already Tried

By understanding what research the patron has already completed, you'll get a sense of where to go next. You'll also be able to correct any research errors or assumptions along the way.

Step 5: Find the Resource

Get started with your search! There are an abundant number of resources on this LibGuide to help you out.

The Reference Interview - An Example

Video created by Carla Murphy and posted to YouTube on March 19th, 2014.

Please note - our catalog will only search for physical items and ebooks/eaudiobooks. It will not bring up results for databases! It's more important to consider how the staff member interacts with the patron when watching this video.

Look to Your Library Board's Policy

Remember to look to your library board's policy for guidance on how to answer patron questions. They may specifically provide support for those types of questions you should avoid answering with your own interpretations of the information and determine when it is appropriate to refer the patron to another institution. 

Need an example? See Flower Library's policy or reach out to NCLS for help creating your own.

Patron Privacy

Respect patron privacy. Your patrons should be able to count on confidentiality, meaning don't take information about reference interactions beyond the "walls" of your desk or gossip among others. However, should you find yourself in a situation where you require the help of your supervisor or a trusted coworker, absolutely pull them in!