Module 1Module 2Module 3Module 4Module 5Module 6

Ohio Reference Excellence on the Web from Ohio Library Council
Ohio Reference
Ohio Library Council
Module Module 2
Introduction 2
 Interview defined
Open questions
6 pieces of evidence
Follow-up, Ending
Review 2
Quiz 2
Answer 2
About ORE
Contact OLC
Contact SLO
Print Choices
Supervisor Tips
Site Index
All Modules
Module 1   Overview
Module 2   Interview
Module 3   People
Module 4   Strategies
Module 5   Resources
Module 6   Ethics

Reference Interview

The key to the reference process.


     Reference service is a way for libraries to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Filling information needs requires discovering the real need behind a patron's first question. Patrons may not clearly express real information needs or may be limited by misconceptions about libraries. The reference interview is a means of determining real information needs.

     Finding the underlying "gap" in knowledge or problem to be solved behind the patron's opening question is an ongoing reference process that includes mediation and follow-up by public service staff. There are four basic steps in the reference process - outreach, determining needs (the reference interview), filling needs, and follow-up.

     Skills and steps in the reference interview include:
 Asking open questions
 Getting all the needed information (the 6 pieces of evidence)
 Following up
 Ending the interview

Listening - the Most Important Part of the Reference Interview

     Listening to a patron without interrupting (a skill that is particularly difficult for some of us) and asking the right questions are necessary skills for successful reference service. You won't find the right answer if you don't know the right question.

     Keep in mind that there are many reasons why patrons don't state real needs. Persevere, be creative, and practice the techniques you will learn in this module.

Interviewing: In Person or Remote?

     Many reference interviewing skills are the same for remote reference:

  • Standard reference service behaviors such as reference interviewing should prevail.
  • Use effective interpersonal communication and recommended model behaviors.
  • Be skilled in online communication, and be aware of the possible problem areas resulting from conducting reference interviews online rather than face-to-face.
  • Treat online communication, including stored transcripts or records, as private and confidential.
[Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services. Service Behaviors 3.3]

Major Point: The reference interview answers the basic question: what does the patron really want to know?

Paraphrasing questions


What's new in reference?

Training for virtual reference providers

Photo: hand on pc mouse beside keyboard

What do you need to know for virtual interviewing? Virtual Reference Adventure: Choose Your Own Experience, a self-paced learning experience based on the Anytime, Anywhere Answers curriculum, was developed by Washington libraries virtual reference project to address core competencies (the critical skills, abilities and aptitudes) for library staff providing virtual reference services.

Listening and asking the right questions:  important parts of the reference interview.

Ohio Libraries

Wright Memorial Library

Wright Memorial Library, Martha Matthews and Ann Newman - listening to the question.

You are here: OLC > OREModule 2 >  Interview defined
Module 1  Module 2  Module 3  Module 4  Module 5  Module 6
Home | Purpose | Instructions | Contact OLC | Contact SLO
Print Choices | Supervisor Tips | Copyright-Credits | Site Index
ORE on the Web. Ohio Library Council. Copyright and credits.
Links updated June 2014.
Return to top