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?

  Reference is providing assistance by using expertise in response to an information need.

 Reference is a conversation and discovery process.

Reference Referral

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, person, or the consultation form. A referral occurs when one person answering a user's question asks someone else to help with the answer. 

A referral is a method of meeting a user's information needs most effectively by forwarding the question to someone else who may have more knowledge in the area. Some referrals may be in the moment and others may take time for a response.

Contact the office or individual if they are unavailable, provide the user with the contact information or consultation form. 

What is a Reference Interview?

A Reference interview is when a user attempts to explain information needs and library employees seeks to understand and clarify user’s question, to communicate back an understanding of the question, to identify appropriate resources, and to work with the user to find the needed information.


New Librarians Reference Interview

This is a mock interview at a public library.

LibChat Instructions

Key Interview Areas

  • Visibility/Approachability
  • Interest (greet, acknowledge, eye contact)
  • Listening/Inquiring (Allow the user to state their informational needs)
  • Identify the goals and objectives
  • Rephrase/summarize and get confirmation that you understand (verification)
  • Searching
  • Clarify when needed (Use open-ended questions)
  • 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