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What do all of the following scenarios have in common?

  • A reference librarian quickly and correctly answers a student's question, only to find out that the student really wanted something else.
  • The librarian with the best searching skills does not get asked many questions because students are intimidated to approach with their questions.
  • An instruction librarian prepares a whole set of handouts for a class assignment, showing the students the best databases and reference books, only to find out later that the instructor wants the students to use Google Scholar.
  • A librarian answering a chat/instant messenger question spends a lot of time and finds the perfect website, only to discover that the user has left the session.

Each of these is an example of the failure of the reference interview. The heart of reference service is the interpersonal interaction between the librarian and the user. No matter what tools we use to communicate or what resources are available, a failure to understand the user's need will result in a failed search. Reference librarians require strong interpersonal skills in order to effectively help their users.

This workshop will give reference librarians some specific skills that they can use to improve their interactions with their users. Instruction will cover approachability factors, questioning techniques, and follow-up actions in both in-person and remote reference service.

Workshop Description: This all-day workshop will provide basic and advanced training in the interpersonal skills required to conduct a successful reference interview. Through observation, role-playing, and video, the participants will see the complex psychological factors that come into play during the transaction. By seeing themselves as their users see them, they will learn how to become more approachable and how to use questioning techniques to find out what their users are really asking.

Preliminary Course Outline

  • Introduction to and Importance of the Reference Interview
    • Styles of reference
    • Reference as other professions might do it
    • ALA Behavioral Guidelines
  • Approachability
    • Factors that encourage or discourage use
    • In-person and online issues
  • Communication
    • Nonverbal communication
    • Verbal communication
    • Open- and closed-ended questions
    • Role playing
  • Follow-up and Assessment
    • Importance of follow-up
    • Assessment techniques

Workshop Instructor: Dave Tyckoson