Conducting the Reference Interview, Third Edition—eEditions PDF e-book

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  • Description
  • Table of Contents
  • About the authors
  • Reviews

Based on the latest research in communication theory but tailored specifically for real-world application, this updated manual speaks equally to the needs of students preparing to enter the profession and those who are already fielding reference inquiries. The authors, working in consultation with a stellar advisory board of scholars and practitioners, present a convenient and comprehensive resource that will teach you how to understand the needs of public, academic, and special library users across any virtual setting—including email, text messaging, and social media—as well as in traditional and face-to-face models of communication. Packed with exercises and examples to help you practice effective reference transactions and avoid common pitfalls, this book

  • tackles the fundamentals of the reference interview, from why it’s important in the first place to methods for setting the stage for a successful interview and techniques for finding out what the library user really wants to know;
  • covers the ins and outs of the readers’ advisory interview;
  • examines a wide range of contexts, such as children, young adults, parents, seniors, adults from diverse communities, and those with disabilities;
  • presents case studies of innovative reference and user encounters at a variety of libraries;
  • offers updated coverage of virtual reference, including new research, virtual reality transcripts, and a look at crowd-sourcing reference via social media;
  • features new content on common microaggressions, with guidance on how to use awareness of emotion as a factor in reference interactions to ensure better outcomes;
  • discusses topics such as respecting/protecting privacy, overcoming assumptions, implicit judgment, the importance of context, determining the real information need, and many other lessons learned from challenging reference encounters; and
  • thoroughly addresses policy and training procedures, as well as the unique challenges faced by paraprofessionals and non-degreed staff.

Find your bearings in the continually evolving hybrid reference environment through proven strategies, advice, exercises, and research from three experts in the field.


1    Why Bother with a Reference Interview?

  • 1.1    What Is a Reference Interview?
  • 1.2    The Service Orientation of Libraries
  • 1.3    Beyond 55 Percent
  • 1.4    Why Didn’t You Say So in the First Place?
    • 1.4.1    The Ill-Formed Query
    • 1.4.2    Mental Models
  • 1.5    The Helpful Answer: Two Ways of Thinking about Information
    • 1.5.1    Information as a Commodity
    • 1.5.2    Questions in Contexts
  • 1.6    Reference as an Art of Translation
  • 1.7    There Are No Bad Guy Users
  • 1.8    Annotated Readings and Cited References
    • 1.8.1    Principles of Interviewing
    • 1.8.2    The Reference Interview
    • 1.8.3    Evaluating the Quality of the Reference Transaction
    • 1.8.4    The Ill-Formed Query, Translation Problems, and Users’ Mental Models
    • 1.8.5    Useful Conceptual Frameworks for Thinking about Information and Information Behavior

2    Setting the Stage for the Reference Interview: The First Thirty Seconds

  • 2.1    Being Approachable
  • 2.2    The Library as a Physical Space
  • 2.3    Establishing Contact
  • 2.4    Skills for the First Thirty Seconds
    • 2.4.1    The Microtraining Approach
    • 2.4.2    Nonverbal Attending Skills
    • 2.4.3    Acknowledgment
    • 2.4.4    Minimal Encouragers
    • 2.4.5    Listening
  • 2.5    Approachability in Virtual Spaces
  • 2.6    Annotated Readings and Cited References
  • 2.6.1    Microtraining
  • 2.6.2    Nonverbal Behavior
  • 2.6.3    Approachability and Nonverbal Behavior in the Reference Context

3    Finding Out What They Really Want to Know

  • 3.1    Some Common Problems
    • 3.1.1    “Without Speaking She Began to Type”
    • 3.1.2    Bypassing the Reference Interview
    • 3.1.3    Taking a System-Based Perspective
    • 3.1.4    The Unmonitored Referral
    • 3.1.5    Negative Closure: How to Make Users Go Away
  • 3.2    Skills for Negotiating the Question
    • 3.2.1    Open and Closed Questions
    • 3.2.2    Avoiding Premature Diagnosis
    • 3.2.3    Sense-Making Questions
    • 3.2.4    Reflecting Content: Paraphrasing and Summarizing
    • 3.2.5    Closure
  • 3.3    Annotated Readings and Cited References
    • 3.3.1    The Reference Interview: General Works
    • 3.3.2    Problems and Issues
    • 3.3.3    Questioning Skills
    • 3.3.4    Reflecting Content and Feeling

4    Moving Beyond Negative Closure

  • 4.1    Skills for Working Together
    • 4.1.1    Inclusion: Telling People What You Are Doing
    • 4.1.2    Library Use Instruction
    • 4.1.3    Follow-up Questions
  • 4.2    Integrating Reference Interview Skills
    • 4.2.1    Tips for Practicing
  • 4.3    Annotated Readings and Cited References

5    Special Contexts for the Reference Interview

  • 5.1    Introduction to Special Contexts
  • 5.2    The Phone Reference Interview
    • 5.2.1    Interview Skills for the Telephone
    • 5.2.2    Voicemail
    • 5.2.3    Who Gets Priority?
  • 5.3    The Secondhand Reference Interview
    • 5.3.1    The Imposed Query
  • 5.4    The Reference Interview with Children and Young Adults
    • 5.4.1    “Got Any Books on Fleas?”
    • 5.4.2    Information Literacy
    • 5.4.3    The School Assignment
    • 5.4.4    Parents
    • 5.4.5    Children, Teens, and the Virtual Reference Interview
  • 5.5    The Reference Interview with Seniors
  • 5.6    Interviewing Adults from Diverse Communities
    • 5.6.1    Cross-Cultural Communication
    • 5.6.2    English Language Learners
  • 5.7    Interviewing People with Disabilities
  • 5.8    Interviewing the User Who Is “Problematic”
  • 5.9    Interviewing Users with Consumer Health and Legal Questions
  • 5.10    Annotated Readings and Cited References
    • 5.10.1    Introduction to Special Contexts
    • 5.10.2    Telephone Reference
    • 5.10.3    The Imposed Query
    • 5.10.4    Interviewing Children and Young Adults
    • 5.10.5    Interviewing Seniors
    • 5.10.6    Interviewing Adults from Diverse Communities
    • 5.10.7    Interviewing People with Disabilities
    • 5.10.8    Interviewing the User Who Is “Problematic”
    • 5.10.9    Interviewing Users with Consumer Health and Legal Questions

6    The Reference Encounter in Virtual Environments

  • 6.1    Introduction to Virtual Reference Services (VRS)
    • 6.1.1    Setting the Stage
  • 6.2    Real-Time Reference: Live Chat, Instant Messaging, and Texting
    • 6.2.1    The Synchronous Reference Interview
    • 6.2.2    Improving Accuracy in Live Chat Reference
    • 6.2.3    Avoiding Face-Threats and Microaggressions in VRS
    • 6.2.4    VRS via Texting
  • 6.3    E-Mail
    • 6.3.1    The E-Mail Reference Interview and Forms
  • 6.4    Trending in VRS
  • 6.5    Annotated Readings and Cited References
    • 6.5.1    Websites, Discussion Lists, Bibliographies, and Discussion Groups
    • 6.5.2    Articles, Books, and Websites, including Cited References

7    The Readers’ Advisory Interview

  • 7.1    Introduction to the Readers’ Advisory Interview
  • 7.2    Towards a Reader-Centered Service
  • 7.3    Evaluating the Readers’ Advisory Transaction
  • 7.4    Setting the Stage
  • 7.5    Conducting the Interview
  • 7.6    Annotated Readings and Cited References
    • 7.6.1    Research-Based Work on Readers’ Advisory, Reading, and the Reader
    • 7.6.2    Readers’ Advisory Service
    • 7.6.3    Evaluation of the Readers’ Advisory Transaction
    • 7.6.4    The RA Interview and Form-Based RA
    • 7.6.5    Resources for Readers’ Advisors

8    Establishing Policy and Training for the Reference Interview

  • 8.1    The Library Context
  • 8.2    Institutional Policy and the Reference Interview
    • 8.2.1    Typical Policies
    • 8.2.2    Reference Service Policy Statements for Library Users
    • 8.2.3    Policy and Procedures Manuals for Staff
    • 8.2.4    Consortial Reference Policies
  • 8.3    Training Staff in Reference Interview Skills
    • 8.3.1    Independent Learning
    • 8.3.2    Group Training
    • 8.3.3    Training for Virtual Reference
    • 8.3.4    Evaluation of Training
    • 8.3.5    Resistance to Training—and Some Answers
  • 8.4    Annotated Readings and Cited References
    • 8.4.1    Library Association Policies and Guidelines for Reference Staff
    • 8.4.2    Reference Policy
    • 8.4.3    Training

About the Authors

Catherine Sheldrick Ross

Catherine Sheldrick Ross is Professor Emerita at the University of Western Ontario. She has taught graduate courses in reference services, readers' advisory work, and research methods in the MLIS and PhD programs at Western. She has presented more than fifty workshops on reference and readers’ advisory to library professionals in the United States and Canada. Together with Patricia Dewdney and Kirsti Nilsen, she has co-written Communicating Professionally (ALA 2013), now in its third edition. She is a four-time winner of the Reference Services Press Award. In 2013, she received NoveList’s Margaret E. Munroe Award given by the American Library Association for “significant contributions to library adult services.” She has published extensively in the areas of reference services, readers’ advisory, and pleasure reading, including: The Pleasures of Reading (2014), Reading Matters (2006), and Reading Still Matters (2018), the latter two co-authored with Lynne (E. F.) McKechnie and Paulette M. Rothbauer.

Kirsti Nilsen

Kirsti Nilsen taught introductory and advanced courses in reference, as well as government information, collection development, special libraries, and information policy while a professor in the MLIS program at the University of Western Ontario and, earlier, as an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, where she completed her PhD. Her library experience includes employment at  MIT and the University of Rhode Island, and as special librarian in a corporate libraries. She was a coauthor on the first and second editions of Conducting the Reference Interview with Catherine Ross, with whom she is also co-author of the third edition of Communicating Professionally. In addition, she is the author of The Impact of Information Policy and coauthor of Constraining Public Libraries: The World Trade Organization's General Agreement on Trade in Services, and author of many articles.

Marie L. Radford

Marie L. Radford is Chair of the Department of Library and Information Science at Rutgers University, New Jersey. She is an award-winning author whose books include Library Conversations: Reclaiming Interpersonal Communication Theory for Understanding Professional Encounters (with Gary Radford) and Research Methods in Library and Information Science, Sixth Edition (with Lynn S. Connaway). Radford gives frequent keynote speeches and presentations at national and international library conferences, and she has published extensively in prestigious LIS journals. She has presented numerous workshops and webinars on such topics as interpersonal communication in library contexts, service excellence, time management, managing change, conflict management, and positive approaches to problematic people. She is coprincipal investigator of the “Seeking Synchronicity” (with Lynn Silipigni Connaway) and “Cyber Synergy” (with Lynn Silipigni Connaway and Chirag Shah) grant projects funded by the IMLS, Rutgers University, and OCLC. She received the 2010 ALA/RUSA Mudge Award for distinguished contributions to reference service.

Praise for the second edition

"The text is a fast read, and the tips and techniques can be immediately applied to improve reference service. Well written and organized, Conducting the Reference Interview is sure to be a favorite among librarians. Bibliographic reference and an index are included."

--Serials Review

"The most compelling reason to read this volume is the amount and quality of knowledge and expertise, based on both research and experience, which come through in just about every sentence ... Every library school student should read this book, and it will be useful to many practicing librarians as a renewing and motivating refresher course in public service. It is most highly recommended."

--Journal of the Medical Library Association

"Conducting the Reference Interview is essential reading for newcomers to the reference desk, as well as librarians who have served our profession for years. Supervisors will find it an effective tool for evaluating staff performance, librarians will find it helpful for day-to-day reference transaction analysis, and students will find it to be a pragmatic guide for assessing and enhancing their reference communication skills."

--Reference and User Services Quarterly

"A thorough, well-arranged book... Conducting the Reference Interview would be an excellent text to use in reference courses in library schools and for further training for reference staffs in libraries."

--Catholic Library World

"This outstanding work is highly recommended for all libraries and is essential reading for all LIS educators and librarians involved in staff training."


"An excellent manual for personal development as well as for training."

--American Libraries

"Valuable to anyone learning to be a reference librarian in addition to the librarian wishing to know more about the reference interaction and how it can be improved."

--ARBA Online