But I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I said.
Reference Interview: Definition
A conversation between reference staff and patron in which staff person asks questions in order to:
- get a clear more complete picture of what patron really want to know, and to
- link patron to the system or other appropriate resource
Why don’t people ask for precisely what they want?
- May not be sure if they are approaching the right person to ask
- may not be sure what it is they want
- may not feel at ease in asking the question – English may not be their first language, they may be embarrassed
- May feel question is too sensitive
- don’t want to reveal reason for needing info
- lack knowledge of depth and quality of collection
- lack knowledge of reference tools available
- lack confidence in ability of reference staff
The patron’s first question is just their way of opening the conversation to determine if
- she is in the right place
- you are available and listening to her
- you are the appropriate person to ask for help
- you can help her with her problem
- Practice acknowledgement
o Restate content of patron’s statement. Acknowledge you heard their question.
o use encouragers to indicate that you are interested and listening, e.g. nod
o Ask open questions. Expand their request.
o Avoid premature diagnosis. Don’t judge to conclusions.
o Practice closure, e.g. when conversation getting off-track bring it back tactfully e.g. “That’s interesting, but tell me now about…”
- show that you’re paying attention
- Involves paraphrasing (restating) the patron’s question. Understand
- Want patron to affirm, deny, or revise and confirm what you restated.
- restating things make patron see you are sympathetic to their concern
- Since many patrons shy from answering straight-forward questions, active listening allows patrons to correct or acknowledge statements rather than answer ones that seem nosy.
- Patron says: “I’m having trouble with the OPAC.”
- Reference person translates to: “They can’t find what they need” and responds: “You can’t find what you want in the OPAC?”
- patron responds: “I’ve forgotten how to use it”
Feeds back – what do you think they’re looking for?
- It sounds like
- So you think
- You’re saying
- You mean
- As you see it
- As I understand you
- Be concise. Don’t go on forever.
- Feed back the essence
- don’t add to or change the meaning
- avoid sounding like a parrot
- use a checkout if called for such as:
o Is that how you see it?
o did I get it right?
- yes/no response
- this/that response
- Is this for a project?
- Do you want American or Canadian authors?
- What if the user wants an Australian author?
- Or, what if the query is not related to a school project?
- questions that cannot be answered with yes or no or this or that, e.g
- What would you like to know about…? this forces a response
- What sort of things are you looking for?
- Please tell me more about that.
- Give me an example.
- What else can you tell me about…? The patron may say something to clarify what they’re looking for.
- Perhaps if you tell me more about your topic, I could make some suggestions.
- allows users to respond in their own words
- do not limit answers to the narrow range of choices presented by the closed questions
- questions are invitations to talk
- may result in conversation that is irrelevant as well as relevant to the interview
o What has caused the question to be asked?
o What don’t you know? Why do you want to know?
Each user has different questions or gaps in his/her understanding of the question.
A strategy for conducting the reference interview to allow reference worker to understand the question from the patron’s point of view.
- Be open
- Tap the patron’s situation or gap or use
- Avoid assumptions
Open in form and structured in content so that the user is invited to talk about specific elements (situations, gaps, uses)
User oriented rather than system-oriented
Sample neutral questions
To find out how person sees situation:
- What aspect of this situation concerns you?
- What problem are you having in this situation?
- Where would you like to begin?
- Where do you see yourself going with this?
- What happened that got you stopped?
To assess the gaps:
- What seems to be missing in your understanding of “x”?
- What would you like to know about “x”?
- What are you trying to understand?
To assess the kind of help wanted (uses):
- If you could have exactly the help you want, what would it be?
- What would help you?
- How would this help you?
- How do you plan to use this info?
- What would you like to see happen in this situation?
- What are you trying to do in this situation?
Do you have anything which gives more details about large corporations?
|Do you want annual reports?||What sort of details do you want?||If you could tell me the kind of problem you're working on, I'll have a better idea of what would help you.|
|Are these national or international companies?||What do you mean by large?||What would you like to know about large companies?|
|Are you looking for a particular company?||What corporations are you interested in?||Tell me a bit about how you plan to use this information.|
- Not acknowledging user
a. acknowledge by eye contact, gestures, restarting initial question
- not listening
a. practice active listening
b. Pause or use an encourager, e.g. Uh-huh; I see; Go on; that’s interesting; Then? Tell me more; anything else? Can you give me an example?
- Playing 20 questions
an open or neutral question such as “what would you like to know about…?” will get you further in less time
- interrupting at inappropriate times
use closure to direct the conversation and pauses or encouragers to signal user it’s their time to talk
- making assumptions
Assumptions based on user’s appearance or your perception of problem are often inaccurate
avoid premature diagnosis and ask neutral questions instead
- Not following up
ask a follow-up question, e.g. “Did that help you?”
- Avoid asking "why" directly.
Don't be nosy. "Why" occurs as a neutral question.
- Make it clear that you are asking this question because you can be more helpful if you know intended uses
- Avoid assumptions. Guessing is often inefficient and sometimes can be offensive when you guess wrong.
Leave the patron in control.
|What can I help you with today?||Can I help you?|
|What have you done so far?||Have you looked in the catalogue?|
|What would you like to know about "x"?||Do you want to know about "a" or "b"?|
|What kind of help would you like?||Do you want me to do "c"?|
|What else can you tell me about "X"?||Is this it? Is that it?|
Guidelines for behavioral performance
- “Research” and incidental studies found that about 55% of reference queries are correctly answered. (dubbed the 55% rule by Hernon and McClure in their 1986 article in LJ)
- Richardson & John dispute this figure in their 2002 article in LJ “Reference is Better than We Thought”.