Reference Services Wordle

Types of Reference Questions

Reference Question Categories


These questions do not require the use of any additional resources. A general, geographic knowledge of where things are and how things are done is generally all that is needed. These questions can be answered with good signage or notices.

Examples of directional questions are:
“Where is the catalogue?”
“Where do I check out books?”
“How late are you open on Friday?”
“Do you have today’s newspaper?”

Ready Reference

There are two types of ready reference questions: Short answer or instructional:

1. Single fact or short answer is answered quickly by consulting one or two standard
reference tools, such as almanacs, encyclopedias, and directories. Often, these questions
will begin with who, what, where, or when.

Examples of this type of ready reference question include:
“Who are my state legislators?”
“What is the date of the Emancipation Proclamation?”

2. Instructional questions — providing the answer involves demonstrating a skill. These
questions usually begin with how.

Examples of this type of ready reference question include:
“How do I download to a flash drive from your computers?”
“How do I search for magazine articles online?”
“How do I find DVDs in your catalogue?”

Specific Search

These questions involve looking for more information than a single fact and generally require:

1. Searching multiple sources for the answer. The librarian needs to formulate a search
strategy to select appropriate resources to answer the question.

2. Presenting a range of information. The librarian will provide the customer with a variety of
resources – books, citations to articles, web sites, and reference tools such as indexes,
catalogs, and bibliographies.

Examples of specific search questions are:
“I am writing a paper on hummingbirds. What information do you have?”
“Do you have anything on the history of atomic energy?”
These questions are often a variation of “What are the best sources of information for my


The answers to research questions depend on what the researcher is able to find. Answering research questions may involve trial-and-error and browsing techniques. The librarian needs to formulate a search strategy to select appropriate resources.


Specific search question: Someone working on a business plan for a new restaurant will need statistics about the local population (age groups, income, etc.), as well as information about managing a restaurant (staffing, suppliers, costs, etc.)

A broad question: Someone is working on the history of an old part of town. Your patron may start by poring over local history materials within the library but the search is certain to expand to other collections and knowledgeable people in the area. You may need to find guidelines and techniques for specialized research methods such as collecting oral histories.

Readers’ Advisory

Questions requesting assistance selecting material for recreational or leisure reading.

“I am looking for a book that takes place in the 1900s and has a ‘whodunit’ theme.”
“My child is in grade 4 and they are interested in books about science experiments.”
“Do you have any large print books that have feature a strong female lead?”

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