Reference Services Wordle

Reference Interview

The Reference Interview Defined

  • The reference interview is the process that determines the information needs of the customer.
  • The aim of the interview is to translate the patron’s questions into one that can be answered with the library’s resources.

Video: The Reference interview


  • Allows staff to match the customer’s question to a relevant and useful source of information.
  • The aim of the interview is to answer the patron’s questions using the library’s resources.

Guide To A Successful Reference Interview

  1. Approachability
  2. Interest
  3. Listening/Inquiring
  4. Searching
  5. Follow-up

1. Approachability

    • Pay attention to both your own and the customer’s body language.
    • Acknowledge and greet the customer as they approach the desk.
    • Ensure the customer has your full attention.

2. Interest

    • Maintain eye contact
    • Find a confidential location for the customer to ask a question
    • Restate and rephrase the question
    • Speak in a relaxed tone
    • Make the customer feel comfortable
    • Nod your head when the customer starts to ask questions

3. Listening/Inquiring

    • Do not interrupt
    • Ask clarifying questions
    • Let the customer express their needs in their own words
    • Ask open-ended questions to probe about their information needs
      • Examples:
        • Tell me more about the sources of information you already consulted?
        • Why do you need the information?
        • How will you use the information?
    • Remember, WORF
        • Welcoming, Listen Carefully
        • Open-Ended Questions
        • Repeat their answer back to the customer
        • Follow-up to ensure they’ve found the information

Video: The Reference Interview – Or Answer a Question Like a Librarian

4. Searching

    • Keep the customer informed of the progress
    • Offer referrals
    • Offer to instruct the customer on how
    • Ask clarifying questions:
    • Do you want printed information that you can take home with you?
    • Do you have access to a comptuer so you can look up sources online?

Video: The Internet – How Search Works

5. Follow-up

    • Asking the customer if they have everything they need ensures that the customer is satisfied with the transaction
    • If the follow-up questions indicate that the customer is not satisfied:
      • Clarify what information is missing
      • Offer to continue working on answering the question
      • Refer the customer to another organization if material is not available at your library


There are eight steps in the reference interview process. When you put it all together and use this process, you are providing excellent communication and customers will be satisfied.

  1. Listening
  2. Paraphrasing
  3. Asking open-ended questions
  4. Clarifying
  5. Verifying
  6. Getting all the needed information
  7. Following up
  8. Ending the interview

Evaluating Sources

Video: Evaluating Sources

The CRAAP Test is a set of criteria used to evaluate websites, articles, and other information sources to assist you to decide whether or not the information is reliable.

Currency – When was the information published? Is it current for your topic?
Relevance – Does it relate to your customer’s information need? Does it answer their question?
Authority – Who is the source of the information? What are their credentials?)
Accuracy – Does it have references? Is the information correct and complete?
Purpose – What is the purpose of the information?

Source: Blakeslee, Sarah (2004) “The CRAAP Test,” LOEX Quarterly: Vol. 31 : Iss. 3 , Article 4.

Video: The REAL Strategy: Reading the URL


Video: Evaluating Websites


A Checklist for Reference Interview Skills – A useful checklist that was adopted for eBook help.

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Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers – RUSA developed the guidelines in order to identify and recommend observable behavioural attributes that could be correlated with positive patron perceptions of reference librarian performance. The committee was charged with the creation of specific guidelines to aid librarians and information professionals during the reference process. These guidelines have been widely used to assist in the training, development, and/or evaluation of librarians and staff who provide information services directly to library users.

Guidelines of the Successful Reference Interview – From Americal Library Association

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American Library Assocation – Guidelines of the Successful Reference Interview

Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test

How to Find if a Website is Legitimate

Open-Ended Questions

Reference Interview

Reference Interview 101

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