Some Guidelines

How do you know when to answer a patron's question and when to refer it to a librarian?

This can be tricky since a simple interaction can sometimes turn complex, and questions can lead to more questions. Just remember, when in doubt ask a librarian!

Here are the types of questions you should answer:

  • Directional questions:  When a patron simply needs to be directed to a location in the library or to a service on the library's website.
    • Do you have a stapler?
    • Where are the restrooms?
    • Where is the children's collection?
    • How do I reserve the Lake Effect Conference Room?
    • I'm not affiliated with the campus and I need to be logged into a computer.
  • Simple reference questions: When a patron needs help finding a book or article with a known title or author. (Read the sections of this guide titled 'Finding Books' and 'Finding Articles' for more information).
    • I'm looking for the book, "Heart of Darkness". Does Penfield have that book and, if so, where is it?
    • I need to find Carl Sagan's article entitled The Search for Extraterrestrial Life.
    • I have this citation of an article and I need to get the full text.
  • Simple technology questions:
    • I just sent a job to be printed. Where will it print out?
    • How do I create hanging indents for my reference list in my Word document? 

And here are the types of questions that you should refer to a librarian:

  • Complex reference questions: Patrons looking for information about a particular topic or for guidance about how to define or use scholarly resources should be referred to the Librarian. For example:
    • I need books about...
    • I need scholarly articles about...
    • I'm looking for statistics about...
    • How can I tell if this book or article is scholarly?

Review 'The Reference Interview' page of this guide. It will help you to ask the right questions and get to the heart of what a library patron really needs from you.

Making Referrals

Here are some helpful guidelines for referrals you may need to make:

  • For General library policy issues and building issues:
  • For Reference questions
    • make a note of their question in Gimlet (including their name and email*) and Deb or another librarian will get back to them in the morning. (*Note that we will delete this identifying information from the record after we speak with them. We DO NOT keep permanent track of our library patrons' personal information in relation to their questions.)
  • For questions about specific ILL requests
  • For a specific subject librarian
  • For printing, basic MS Office questions, wireless connection, and laptop issues
    • refer person to Computer Lab Assistant (x1069), CTS Help Desk in 26 Lanigan (x3456)
  • For multimedia creation and technology

There are a number of online forms that patrons can be referred to for a variety of library services. See the next section about contact request forms, including forms for making room reservations.

Try This

Referrals to Librarians

Question Skills

Think about these techniques when asking questions:

  • Paraphrasing
    • "So you're saying that..."
  • Asking open-ended questions
    • "Tell me more about what you mean by..."
  • Clarifying
    • "You said you are looking for books. Did you mean both print and electronic books?"
  • Verifying
    • "Is this what you are looking for?"
  • Getting all the needed information
    • "Do you have everything you need or do you need more sources?"