The Reference Interview: Theories and Practice

Abstract: Brown - an in-the-trenches reference librarian - focuses on how to determine what kind of information the patron needs through the reference interview.

You have to determine who the patron is, what their real question is, and then begin the reference interview.

In some depth, Brown discusses the five elements of the reference interview:

  1. approachability;
  2. interest;
  3. listening/inquiring;
  4. searching; and
  5. follow up.

She warns to that one must remember to "be skeptical of the information the patron presents" and to "try different search terms."

She closes by reminder the reader of the fundamental function of reference: "to both save the time of the reader and provide her or him with the most appropriate resources."


I really appreciated Brown's practical, experienced perspective, as well as the fact that she summarized the reference process so handily.

I wonder if some of these same themes can be applied in the virtual realm.

Without non-verbal cues, how does one indicate approachability, interest, etc.? Given the somewhat self-service and disconnected nature on online reference and searching, I'm also not sure how one would construct aids that piqued interest in sources or engaged in follow-up. I'm curious as to whether a human being could project these indicators in the online setting.

Brown, S. W. (2008). The Reference Interview: Theories and Practice. Library Philosophy and Practice, 10(1). Retrieved September 28, 2008, from Library Information Science & Technology Abstracts Full Text.