Key areas of an Interview

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


Prioritizing the conversation 

  • Stop other activities and focus on the user's needs
  • Be attentive to surroundings 
  • Make the user feels welcome and greet them
  • Verbal and non-verbal behaviors show you are available to help
  • Look approachable & ready to help


Focus your attention on the user and their information need

  •  Show interest/understanding with verbal and non-verbal confirmation
  • Examples: Nodding. paraphrasing back subject/topic information

Active Listening/Inquiry

Identifying the user's information needs

  • Listen - allow the user to state their informational needs
  • Identify the goals and objectives
  • Rephrase/summarize and get confirmation that you understand (verification)
  • Clarify when needed.
  • Use open-ended questions

What is reference?

What is a reference interview?

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. Provide the user with an answer. Offer a referral if needed. Check back with the user to make sure that the answer was provided or give step suggestion.

Sample Interview Questions

  • What would you like to know about this topic?
  • What do you already know about the topic?
  • What kind of additional information are you looking for?
  • Where have you already looked for information?
  • I'm not familiar with this topic.  Can you explain it to me?
  • What class is this for?
  • Did your instructor give you any guidelines?


After identifying what the user needs, the interview might include:

  • Asking where they have already looked
  • Determining search terms and spelling
  • Identifying appropriate sources 
  • Explaining search strategies
  • Demonstrating a search
  • Asking if additional information is needed
  • Making a referral if needed


Is the user satisfied?

  • Have you referred the user to other sources/resources/services?
  • Encourage the user to return if needed

Sample Follow up Questions

  • Does this completely answer your question?
  • Do you have everything you need?
  • Is there anything else I can help you find?


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.