Reference involves helping people find answers they need.
There are basically two kinds of reference: answering the question, and teaching people how to find the answer themselves.
In public libraries, and many other kinds of libraries, the reference librarian answers questions. This can be quite rewarding and helpful to patrons in a hurry or on the phone.
In many academic libraries, including PAC, the Learning Library concept is preferred. In these libraries, the patron or student is taught how to find the answer for themselves. This makes them an independent learner for life and is considered a part of the students' college education.
Whatever philosophy your reference department follows, when a person approaches the reference desk, the odds are that they do not know enough to ask the right question. This necessitates the reference interview.
A student approaches you, for instance, and wants information on the guillotine. Some questioning reveals that she has an assignment to write a paper about the French revolution. If you had simply found her a book on the guillotine, her real need would not have been resolved.
There are two additional problems. One is that the patron may be impatient, in a hurry, waited until the last minute to do an assignment, or is irritable for any number of reasons. Patience, speaking in a soft tone, and empathy are required to help the patron.
The second problem is that the patron may not approach the reference desk. Through shyness or ego, the patron may try to find the answers on their own. Some even wander the stacks, hoping the right book will jump out at them. It is therefore essential that you also leave the reference desk and approach anyone wandering the stacks or using the online catalog to ask if they would like some help.
The Reference Interview: Theories and Practice an article
Don't forget to take the quiz for wk. 8. (Go to Canvas in ACES.)
Colby Glass, MLIS, Professor Emeritus