Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reference Revisited

I don't know about y'all, but my recollection of library school reference training went something like this:

  1. Customer asks a question/states a need.
  2. Librarian asks clarifying questions, generally open-ended questions at first and then follows up with closed-ended questions.
  3. Librarian determines the information need, takes the customer to the stacks or computer, shows them the relevant material and asks them to return to the reference desk if they have any other questions.
All fine and good. Sort of.

There needs to be a step 1.5, which would sound something like this: Yes.

When a customer asks if we have information on China, avoid immediately launching into a reference interview -- this just makes people defensive. It may be unclear to them if we are just stalling because we don't know the answer or if we are mocking them or who-knows-what-other story the might be telling themselves. If we start with yes, then a number of things start to happen: the customer knows that we have an end game in mind but we just need some clarification, the customer and the librarian become part of a team working toward a common goal and we (the library) look more competent.

The next time someone swings by the desk and their question isn't extremely narrow or obscure, try saying yes right out of the gates and see what happens.