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 initial question
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.
People can almost always describe the type of help they would like or what they plan to do with the information.
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
Neutral questioning strategy directs the reference staffer to learn from the user the nature of the underlying situation, the gaps faced, and the expected uses
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?
Questions asked will depend on the 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.|
Six common causes of communication accidents
- 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?”
Guidelines for "why"
- 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
The 55% rule
- “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”.
o In 90% of cases “A panel of reference experts determined that librarians recommended an accurate source or an accurate strategy”