The Reference Interview
The reference interview is where you try to find out exactly what the researcher needs, since they aren't always good at explaining it to you. It takes some practice to get good at interviewing patrons. Here are some strategies to get you started.
- Be visible and approachable. It is okay to do work at the desk between patrons, but keep your peripheral vision queued to passing patrons who may need help. Make eye contact when possible.
- Greet the person in a friendly manner, like you want to do business with them. Answer the phone with “Penfield Library Research Help Desk” so people know which service they’ve reached.
- Ask the patron what they have done already, so you are not duplicating their efforts. It can be helpful to double check their work to see if there are any clues as to what the problem might be.
- Instruct as well as inform. Show the patron what you are doing in the catalog or database and talk about it. Encourage their lifelong learning by telling them about strategies they can use for other applications. Be careful, however, not to extend the reference transaction beyond what the patron has time for.
- If they are feeling frantic or under pressure, try to calm them down as you work. In this case focus on just the information and not the instruction.
- Maintain patron confidentiality by not including their personal information in your records or communications about your transaction. Never discuss other library patrons and never disclose personal library information about one patron to another.
- Ask the patron if you have answered their question and if there is anything else you can help with.
- Make an appropriate referral when you aren’t able to help; never leave the person without either helping or referring him/her to someone who can.
*The important thing to remember about a reference interview is that the person asking the question may actually need more information or guidance than they are asking for. Try to solicit as much information about what they are looking for as possible. Sometimes, they just want the book they asked you for, but other times they actually need much more.