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Librarian Resources

The 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


  • 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

  • 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 
  • Ask open-ended questions to probe about their information needs 
    • 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