Getting from the opening question
to the real need.
Paraphrasing is a useful technique that will help you discover
a patron's real information need. You repeat back what the patron said in their words
without adding any thoughts or questions of your own. You mirror the patron's thoughts,
showing the patron what the question "looks like" to you.
These are statements, not a question. If you make it a
question, it may sound like you are incredulous that the person would ask such a question!
You want to know the state flower of Ohio? You want to know the names of your
representatives in Congress? You want information on abortion?
Paraphrasing has three outcomes.
- It reassures the patron that you are listening to them.
- It reassures you that you have heard correctly.
- The patron may clarify or amplify their original request with more information.
Paraphrasing is also useful when you have a very talkative
patron. Sometimes people will tell you their story, then tell you again, then again. They
might want to be sure you heard them. If you paraphrase after the first telling, they will
know you understand and will continue with the rest of their story.
The patron says, "I really need information on Ohio. I've
looked all over the place and haven't found what I want. I tried those books over there
and they didn't help, and I'm still looking. I just can't seem to find what I need."
You can say, "You need information on Ohio" or
"You're looking for information about Ohio."
What is virtual reference? IFLA defines virtual reference,
digital reference, e-reference, Internet information services, live reference and
real-time reference as terms sometimes used interchangeably to describe reference services
that utilize computer technology in some way.
Do you still need to follow the steps in the reference process
and use paraphrasing, open questions, clarifying, verifying, etc.? YES! When you are not
face-to-face with a library user, getting to the real information need requires skillful
interviewing using all the steps of the reference process.
Major Point: Paraphrasing is a useful technique to discover more information.
Many of the ORE Module pages will ask you to work with the
reference collection and with your local staff. Sometimes the best reference resources are
the "human resources." Ask!
Write down the answers to the exercise questions in this
module and keep them to review with your supervisor at the end of the module.
How would you paraphrase the following questions?
- Do you have the owner's manual for this model washing machine? Mine needs repair.
- I'd like to get some ideas on building a chair.
Paraphrasing lets the patron know you are listening and have heard
Example Question: "Do you have anything about Ohio plants?"
Paraphrase: "You need information about Ohio plants."
Response: "Yes," means you've heard correctly.
[Sue Pascual and Father Tom Timmons]
A patron was trying to recall a particular episode of The Wonderful
World of Disney he had seen as a child. He wanted to know if it was available on video,
but he didn't know the title of the episode, just a description of the plot. He was pretty
vague about what he wanted so I asked him a lot of questions in the reference interview to
After I had quizzed him on the plot details, I repeated it back to him to make sure I had
it right. "So it was about a South Sea islands boy who is shipwrecked on an
unfamiliar island with his dog, and he has to find his way back home." The patron's
face lit up and he said, "You've seen it!
He didn't realize I was repeating back to him what he had just told me. From his
description I still wasn't able to find the answer in the library, so I e-mailed the
official Disney web site. They responded that the title of the episode was "Call It
Courage." Once we had the title, we were able to find more information in library
materials. We even had the video!
Margaret Peters, Wright Memorial Public Library.