Reference Interview for Children

Are there differences between a reference interview for a child and an adult?

Follow these 10 steps for a successful reference or readers’ advisory interview with your young customers.

1. Make the reference desk inviting.

The most important step is getting the child to come to the reference desk or wherever staff is located to get help!

2. Listen. Be patient and positive.

It is important to listen — really listen —  and not assume you know what is being asked for after only listening briefly.

3. Be conscious of your body language.

Approaching an adult to ask a question can be intimidating to some children.  To look approachable, smile and say hi.  Gently lean forward to express interest.  Keep your legs and arms uncrossed.

4. The first request may not actually be what children need or want.

Keep your expectations about the initial information low.  Children rarely initially ask for what they really want.   For example, a child may say, “I want a book about animals.”

5. Keep asking questions.

It’s essential to gather more information.  With children, this means narrowing the scope of a very broad request.  While it can feel awkward to ask questions, if done in a friendly, nonjudgmental tone, it will ensure a successful outcome.

6. Involve children as you search. 

Children often enjoy seeing what the librarian is doing as she searches.  At many libraries each reference computer has an outward-facing monitor so when turned on the patron can follow along.  Many times the child has already seen the cover of the book she wants but cannot recall exact information.

7. Including parents…or not.

Frequently children come to the reference desk with their parents and what the child wants may not be what the parent wants for the child.  This can be challenging.  I direct my questions and attempt to have the dialogue with the child rather than the parents.

8. Walk with them to find the item.

Just having a call number in hand is usually not enough information for a child (or even an adult) to find the library item.  Walking to the stacks is a good time to engage in small talk.

9. Let them know that your suggestions are only suggestions.

Let children know that any suggestions given or books shown are just that – suggestions.  I like for children to feel that the library is never a place to feel pressured.

10. Stay current with what children are reading and watching. 

Although it is not necessary (or possible!) to read or watch every piece of material that children are currently interested in, it is helpful to have a general idea of what is going on.

The full article, Readers’ Advisory for Children: It’s All About Attitude (By Tami Austin), provides a practical approach to assist children with their reference questions.


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