Reference Interview

Finding out what the real information need is

A reference interview is a conversation between you and a library user that helps you understand the user's needs. During the interview show interest in the user's needs and focus on what they are asking. Listen to them, paraphrase back, and ask for clarification if needed. Engage the user as you search for what they need.  Offer a referral  if needed. Provide the user with an answer. Check back with the user to make sure that the answer provides them with an answer or next step suggestion.

 What does the patron really want to know? If you don’t understand, ask! 

What is reference?


A referral is when you refer a user for a consultation or further information. After conducting a reference interview and providing the user with the information you are able to provide direct the user to the appropriate department, a staff person, or the consultation form. Contact the office or individual if they are unavailable, provide the user with the contact information or consultation form. 

New Librarians Reference Interview

This is a mock interview at a public library.

LibChat Instructions

Key areas of an Interview

  • Visibility/Approachability
  •  Interest
  • Listening/Inquiring
  • Searching
  •  Follow Up

Types of Information Needed

  1. Purpose
  2. Deadline
  3. Type/amount - How much information is needed?
  4. Who - How much does the user know and what more do they need
  5. Where