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Ohio Reference Excellence on the Web from Ohio Library Council
Ohio Reference
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Module Module 1
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Module 1   Overview
Module 2   Interview
Module 3   People
Module 4   Strategies
Module 5   Resources
Module 6   Ethics

Need for a Reference Process

Finding and filling real information needs is an ongoing process.

More Than Answering Questions

     Reference work is more than answering questions. Discovering and meeting information needs is a process that involves finding the real information need behind the questions. The reference process involves open communication between you and the patron, working until the need is met.

Filling the Knowledge Gap

    You can think of reference work as assisting people in filling gaps in their knowledge and solving problems. The "gap" represents the real information need. Patrons may have trouble expressing the real information need, or may be reluctant to do so, and may ask a question that they think will help fill the gap. However, the answer to their question as first stated may fill only a part of the gap, and not meet the entire need. You need to discover the underlying need so you can help patrons completely fill their information gap.

For example

     Suppose a man comes into a public library asking for recipes for tomato sauce. It would be relatively easy to provide him with recipes. Would we then meet his information need? Suppose this man had just harvested his garden tomatoes and is overwhelmed by the amount he collected. His "information gap" is what to do with all those tomatoes!

     While the man sees his problem as being solved by recipes for tomato sauce, if you discover this "information gap" you may be able to really help him by providing him with ideas of other things he might do with the tomatoes: drying, freezing or canning them; making ketchup or salsa; giving them to food shelters; or composting them. You would have done a much better job of meeting the information need that brought him to the library, even if he didn't clearly express his need in his opening question to you.

Major Point: Finding the underlying "gap" in knowledge or problem to be solved behind the patron's opening question is an ongoing process.


Steps of the Reference Process


What's new in reference?

How far should the library go in meeting users' online needs?

web browsing on cell phone

To determine and fill real information needs, a consistent, multi-step process is required.

Ohio Libraries

Twinsburg Public Library

Twinsburg Public Library

Camden Library, Preble County District Library

Camden Library, Preble County District Library


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