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The Reference Interview Ione Hooper LIS 503 Fall 2003
Dimensions of the interview: • A communication event; communication means to: • impart • participate • share • convey • reveal • involves verbal & non-verbal behavior
Dimensions of the interview: • librarian must start with assumption that client can make her/his needs clear • client should start with assumption that librarian is competent • difficulties arise when these basic assumptions fail to hold • leads to impatience & frustration in both parties
Interview structure • establish rapport • get general information, big picture • get specific information • intervene • give info, advice, instructions • end, including feedback or summary
Successful interviews based on: • mutual, demonstrated respect • clear understanding of request • check for understanding by paraphrasing, restating query (“so what you’re saying is…”), verifying key words • active listening skills • understanding purpose of query, how information is to be used • use neutral, open-ended questioning techniques • appropriate closure
Open questions • Allow the user to say what is wanted, and what aspect of the topic is important to him or her • An open question is content free – it does not impose your assumptions on the user • When you ask closed questions you have to guess what the user wants and make assumptions – so it’s easy to be wrong • An open question encourages the user to talk
Open questions--examples • How may I help you? • What information would you like on that? • What aspect of X are you interested in? • What kind of help would you like? • What have you done about this so far? • What other help would you like?
Instead of asking: Do you need any help? Have you looked in the catalogue? Do you want to know A or B? Do you want me to do C? Is it this? Is it that? Ask: What can I help you do today? What have you done so far? What would you like to know about X? What kind of help would you like? What else can you tell me about X? 5 easy questions
Neutral questions*developed by Brenda Dervin, University of Ohio • To find out how the client sees his/her situation: • Can you tell something about the topic/problem you’re working on? • Where would you like to begin with this topic? • Where do you see yourself going with this?
Neutral questions • To assess the gaps • What would you like to know about X? • What would you like to find out about this topic? • What are you trying to understand? • What aspect of this situation/project interests you most?
Neutral questions • To assess the kind of help wanted: • What sort of information (results, book, article) would help you most? • How would you like the information to help you? • How do you plan to use this information? • If you could tell me what you're trying to do, perhaps I could help. • If you could have exactly the information you wanted, what would it be?
Neutral pre-search interview questions • Please describe briefly the problem that you are working on. • What have you done so far? What steps have you taken to get help with this problem? • If you have found anything helpful so far, what was it? (e.g., journal article, names of experts, names of institutes or research centres) • What would you like to find out about this topic as a result of this search? • If we could find the perfect journal article for you, what would it be called? • How do you plan to use the information that you get from this search? What will it help you do?
Follow up questions • Does this help you? • How will this help you ? • What else do you need to find out? • What else would you like us to do ? • Does this completely answer your question? • If this isn't it, get back to me and we can find something else. • If you don't find what you're looking for, be sure to ask me or anyone at the desk.
Essential information: • what information is needed (specifically) • how much is needed • how the information is to be used • degree of sophistication required • time frame (to search, & for use) • format required • willingness to pay for additional services
Other essential communication skills: • Approachability: appearing willing to provide assistance • appear relaxed • be sensitive to others’ needs • honestly enjoy social interaction • proactively offer help • Awareness of nonverbal communication • maintain eye contact • minimize gestures, don’t mimic client • keep tone of voice even • maintain composed face • look interested • smile
Encouragers • uh-huh • go on • that’s interesting • anything else?
Causes of communication accidents • not acknowledging the client • not listening • playing 20 questions • interrupting at inappropriate time • making assumptions • not following up
Common misunderstandings • Client asks for something specific but gets the term wrong • Client asks for a source that is not the best one • Client asks for a general topic when they want something very specific • There’s a problem of mishearing what was said (e.g. Tolkien book / talking book) • Client has misheard what someone else has said, like a teacher (e.g. Go to the library and consult Eric – as in a person – instead of the database ERIC)’
The question as greeting • Think of the initial question as a greeting • S/he wants to know first – am I in the right place? Is this person available and listening? • S/he wants to establish contact before investing in a description of the problem • The larger the institution, the more important it is to establish contact
Special situations • Disabled Clients • leave the client in control • don’t make assumptions about the client’s abilities or needs • treat the client as an individual • maintain appropriate nonverbal behavior • don’t underestimate the client • don’t assume the client wants special materials • know the facts about specific disabilities • know the limitations of your library • don’t pretend the disability doesn’t exist • encourage the client’s independence • use follow-up questions • encourage feedback
Special situations • Cross-cultural communication • use body language that suggests approachability, respect, willingness to help • restate or paraphrase to allow client to correct you • do not assume a smile means agreement • silence or lack of eye contact may mean agreement or demonstration of respect • keep questions simple and wait for an answer • apologize for misunderstandings
Special situations • Problem patrons • describe the situation objectively • explain the consequences of the problem behavior for other clients and staff • specify how you would like the problem behavior to change • specify consequences of appropriate behavior, and of continuation of inappropriate behavior