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Module Module 3
Body language
Model behaviors
Go with patrons
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Being Approachable

Verbal and non-verbal behaviors let patrons know you want to help.


     Reference service is an ongoing process. Determining real information needs requires a skillful reference interview. A successful interview includes paraphrasing, asking open questions, clarifying, and verifying to gather the 6 pieces of evidence that determine what the patron really wants to know. The end of the interview is a follow-up question to be sure the correct information was found.

Welcoming Behaviors and Approachability

     The questioning techniques of the reference interview are the right thing to say, but what you DO while you're saying it can make a big difference! Patrons are often reluctant to ask questions. Your job is to encourage questions by using welcoming behaviors and by being approachable. Following are some behaviors for encouraging questions by showing your patrons respect and courtesy.


  • Smile! Greet your patrons as they enter the library.
  • Use a relaxed, upbeat tone of voice.
  • Practice your telephone voice to be sure that it also projects a smile.


  • Maintain natural eye contact (but be aware  of cultural sensitivities).
  • Be at patron's eye level if you can. For example, if your patron is seated, perhaps in a wheelchair, it really makes it easier for them to talk to you if you are seated. Don't forget children; it helps to be at eye level with them, too.
  • Keep a relaxed, open body posture.
  • Have an interested facial expression.
  • Lean forward slightly (if sitting).
  • Walk around the library -- slowly!
  • Let people know your name.
  • Provide an appropriate setting.
  • Maintain privacy.
  • Eliminate physical barriers.
  • Reduce desk clutter.
  • Lower distracting noise levels.

Remote but Approachable

     As with face-to-face reference, approachability is important in remote reference. The design of library virtual reference interfaces (screens) should encourage patrons to use the services. Approachability is expressed with welcoming language and a clutter-free visual design. A clear statement of the scope of the service, what is expected of those using it, and a statement of those for whom the service is intended are necessary. The Ohio KnowItNow 24/7 virtual reference service interface, as an example of welcoming language, offers "to meet your information needs whenever you need it, wherever you are!"

     Guidelines recommend that you "provide prominent, jargon-free links to all forms of reference services from the home page of the library's Web site, and throughout the site wherever research assistance may be sought out. ...Make reference services easy to find and convenient."

[Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers, 1.8]

Major Point: Being approachable encourages questions.



     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.

  1. Walk around the reference area of your library. How well does the area meet the following suggestions for approachability?
  • Provide an appropriate setting
  • Maintain privacy
  • Eliminate physical barriers
  • Reduce desk clutter
  • Lower distracting noise levels

Answer Key

Making patrons comfortable
Body language


Provide a welcoming reference area, allow privacy, eliminate physical barriers and distracting noises, and reduce desk clutter to encourage patrons to approach and ask a question.
Ohio Libraries

Desk Clutter, Anonymous Public Library

Barricaded behind the clutter at Anonymous Public Library!

Ohio Stories

A library patron who collects antiques wanted to verify the value of a chair that he was interested in buying from an antique shop in the British Isles. He brought in titles of two books that he wanted the library to interlibrary loan. Mary Ann Clymer, Head of Reference at the Avon Lake Public Library, verified titles on WorldCat and forwarded the requests to our Interlibrary Loan Librarian.

The library received the book, Chairs, from the University of New Mexico and called the patron. Several days later the patron came back to thank Mary Ann for getting the book. The picture of the chair that he wanted to buy for $15,000 was identical to a chair in the book. The chair was an original. The age of the chair was authenticated: 17th century. The patron, a satisfied customer, left the library knowing that what he wanted to purchase was a museum-quality antique.

The patron returned several weeks later to tell us that he had received the chair. The chair dated from 1610-1620. The patron commissioned a cushion to be made for his cat, who would have the best seat in town in the 17th century antique chair.
[Susan E. Cozzens, Avon Lake Public Library]

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