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Student Assistants Research 101: Reference Interview

RUSA Guidelines

Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) guidelines for the reference interview

1.     Approachability - Don't be engrossed in the computer and slouched over. Make eye contact and be generally welcoming and energized. 

2.     Interest - Indicate interest. Your interest may encourage the patron to provide additional and helpful information. This will also buy you some time to think!  

3.     Listening/Inquiry - Ask the patron clarifying questions and listen to their responses. Determine the patron's needs. What is their real question? 

4.     Searching - Finally! This can be a time to educate the patron on how to use our catalog and find appropriate databases. 

5.     Follow-up - Tell the patron how they can get additional help once they start researching on their own. 

Reference Interview Step x Step

Narrow your Research Question with the 5 Ws

Communication Skills

  • Paraphrase = interchangeable response
  • Empathy = understanding not pity
  • Summary & Clarification = sincerity vs. speculation
  • Questions allowing for open-ended responses
  • Confrontation & Interpretation = negotiate about meaning
  • Nonjudgmental Attitude = neutral
  • Knowing Limits - Recognize complexity

Tips for Difficult Questions

Be skeptical of the information the patron presents

  • It's possible titles, dates, or author names provides are not 100% correct

Try different search terms

  • Work with the patron to brainstorm different search terms. Try to identify the controlled vocabulary related to the topic

Try a different catalog or database

  • Where else might you find resources on this topic? Is there a subject specific database?

Not sure if the patron is getting the help they need? Refer them to a librarian.

  • ...I feel like we're hitting some roadblocks. Can I schedule you to meet with a librarian?
  • ...I'm a _________ major and not very familiar with your topic. I can show you a few resources, but I'd like to arrange for you to meet with a librarian.

Clarifying the Patrons Needs

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