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Competences: An Introduction to 23 Things Reference

Why Are We Doing This?

Put aside all the programs we do at the library. Put aside the meeting rooms and the passport office and the post office. All of those things are considered "value added services" for libraries. The public library - no matter the size of the building or the number of items in the collection - has several basic tasks that they MUST provide to the public. One of those - and a very important one - is reference services. Even though we have a reference librarian and several other librarians on staff who can handle more difficult reference questions, it is everyone's job to make sure that patrons do not leave the building without accurate answers to their questions.

Google is not always reliable and does not contain all the information you need to answer reference questions.

Wikispaces should NEVER be used to answer a reference question. Sometimes their list of resources at the end of an entry is a good place to find things, but we have better ways to get the information we need.

Some people consider Reader's Advisory as a part of reference services.
For this course, we will cover some Reader's Advisory for more difficult questions.

The following video is a little "cheesy," but it does give you some tips on conducting a reference interview. Take a look at it and see if do all the "correct" things when speaking with a patron.

The Reference Interview

Great Place to Look for Answers

The American Library Association's Reference and User Services Association has compiled an amazing list of websites for reference questions.

Check it out and bookmark it!

23 Things Reference Schedule

23 Things Reference Schedule

Thing #1 - September 1-7
Thing #2 - September 8-14
Thing #3 - September 15-21
Thing #4 - September 29-October 5
Thing #5 - October 6-12
Thing #6 - October 13-19
Thing #7 - October 20-26
Thing #8 - October 27-November 2
Thing #9 - November 3-9
Thing #10 - November 10-16
Thing #11 - November 17-23
Thing #12 - November 24-30
Thing #13 - December 1-7
Thing #14 - December 8-14
Thing #15 - December 15-21
Holiday Break - December 22-January 4
Thing #16 - January 5-11
Thing #17 - January 12-18
Thing #18 - January 19-25
Thing #19 - January 26-February 1
Thing #20 - February 2-8
Thing #21 - February 9-15
Thing #22 - February 16-22
Thing #23 - February 23-March 1

The 6 Pieces of Evidence

What information should you get from the reference interview?

At the conclusion of a good reference interview - before your start your search -- you should have as many of the six pieces of evidence as possible. You can use open probes, paraphrasing, clarifying and verifying to prompt patrons to volunteer this information efficiently and easily. You might need to ask for some information directly, i.e. deadline, but most of this information will come out naturally during a good reference interview.

The Six Pieces of Evidence


Why is the information needed? What does the patron plan to do with it? Material needed for a term paper on Cuba will be very different from material needed for travel to Cuba.


Is there a date after which the information will no longer be useful to the patron? Ask, "What is the last day we could provide this information to you and still meet your needs?" If they say, "As soon as possible," tell them the library always gets information for people as soon as possible and then repeat your original question. A specific date is helpful for you and for a backup reference service.


How much information is needed? In what form will it be most useful? Some material may be best understood as a picture or chart, or even in a different language.


How knowledgeable is the patron on this subject? Is the person an expert, or a beginner? What information does the patron already have? A person asking for information about a disease might be a doctor, nurse, student, or patient. Each of these people will have different information needs.


Where did the patron hear about this? What is the source? What prompted the question? If all else fails, you can usually contact the original source to find more information on a specific topic. This is especially true for new book requests and for requests generated by television or radio shows.


What does the patron really want to know? If you don't understand, ask! Use your reference interviewing skills to get to the basic question.

This information is from Minnesota Opportunities for Reference Excellence.

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