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All About Ref Questions

Reference Interviews

Reference Interview Best Practices

  • Ask open-ended questions to understand the question
  • Make sense of the question:  what is the end product? How will they use this information?
  • See the “virtual librarian” at Leland Speed Library at Mississippi College, somewhat a dichotomous key for a patron or a front desk worker to help find a resource
  • Active listening:  restate the question, ask if information given was helpful
  • Always refer to a librarian at the end of the interaction, regardless of perceived successfulness
  • Steps of Reference Interview (retrieved from State Library of Iowa and RUSA guidelines)

reference interview flow chart

Chart retrieved from: Nims, Julia K., Paula Storm, and Robert Stevens. 2014. Implementing an Inclusive Staffing Model for Today’s Reference Services: A Practical Guide for Librarians. Practical Guides for Librarians ; No. 2. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 64.

Most materials on this page were posted by Hannah Craven, Master of Library & Information Science (student), University of Denver on 12/29/2017 on INFOLIT listserv  "[question] Reference interview training materials" as a summary of responses sent to her.

Bobrowsky, T., Beck, L., & Grant, M. (2005). The chat reference interview: Practicalities and advice. The Reference Librarian43(89-90), 179-191.  doi:10.1300/J120v43n89_12

Coonin, B. & Levine, C. (2013). Reference interviews: Getting things right. The Reference Librarian, 54, 73-77. doi:10:1080/02763877.2013.735578

Jennerich, E. Z. & Jennerich E. J. (1997). The reference interview as a creative art. 2nd ed. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.  [Selections, perhaps 1st chapter]Langan, K. (2012). Training millennials: A practical and theoretical approach. Reference Services Review, 40(1), 24-48.

Magi, T. (2019). Why Discovery Tools and Information Literacy are Not Enough. College & Research Libraries News, 80(10), 573-574. [Searches aren't always helpful, so it's important to be familiar with reference sources.]

Online modules: Ohio Reference Excellence Online

YouTube training video: “The 5 Habits of a Highly Effective Reference Interview”

Steps of Reference Interview (retrieved from State Library of Iowa)

Having trouble finding relevant (or enough) articles? Try these search tips:

Start with an encyclopedia. Make sure you know enough about your topic to get started. Check Encyclopedia Britannica (WSU's subscription) or Wikipedia for important names, locations, dates and other basic concepts. Encyclopedias are also useful to help you brainstorm synonyms, and narrower and broader concepts.

Vary search terms. Try using search terms suggested by your research. Search names of people who have published on your topic. Review subject headings or key words from articles that are somewhat relevant and try them in a new search. Make a list of synonyms and broader and narrower terms and try some in a new search.

Search for synonyms. Searching for multiple synonyms at the same time can sometimes help you determine the best form of the key words in your topic.

Search other databases. WSU has specialized and general/interdisciplinary databases. Review the subject list of databases and try something different.

Check bibliographies. Academic books and articles always include a list of references at the end.

Use interlibrary loan. ILL can get books, articles, and other library materials for WSU-persons at no charge.

Search government documents. The U.S. government is tha largest publisher in the world. Try the USA.gov site, a useful index to the gazillions of government publications and reports.

Based on a list in:
Ballinger, Bruce. The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers. 9th ed. Hoboken: NJ, Pearson, 2018, pp. 106-107.

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