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Reference interview

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Interpersonal communication which occurs between a reference librarian and a library user to determine the specific information needs of the user. The interview usually occurs at the request of the user, but may be initiated by the librarian who perceives a need on the part of a user who has not asked for assistance. The purpose of a reference interview is for the librarian to understand the patron's information need - what information will be useful to them to resolve a problem or learn about something or whatever. When done right, the patron can go from a sort of general unease (anomalous state of knowledge[1]) to information in hand/on screen, confident [2], and off to make the world a better place. The librarian and the patron converge on a shared understanding of the problem, that can be translated into a query or a jaunt to the shelf.


Bopp & Smith defines Reference interview as the "Conversation between a member of the library reference staff and a library user for the purpose of clarifying the user’s needs and aiding the user in meeting those needs" [1].

According to the ODLIS, reference interview is "the interpersonal communication that occurs between a reference librarian and a library user to determine the person's specific information need(s), which may turn out to be different than the reference question as initially posed...A reference interview may occur in person, by telephone, or electronically (usually via e-mail) at the request of the user, but a well-trained reference librarian will sometimes initiate communication if a hesitant user appears to need assistance" [2].

Reference interview is the dialogue between user & the librarian taking place when the librarian tries to help the user. The main purpose of the reference interview is clarifying the user’s information need and enabling the librarian to find information, which fulfills the need of the user

Reference interview is composed of two segments:

1. An initial segment in which the librarian encourages the user to fully discuss the request.

2. A final segment in which the librarian asks questions to relate the request to the materials available in the library

Gathering information with open questions
Confirming the exact question
Giving the Answer
Following up

Further readings[edit]

  1. Mock Reference Interviews by Jimmy Ghaphery
  2. 10 Tips for Reference Dialogues by Richard X. Thripp
  3. Steps of the Reference Interview by the Iowa Library State Library
  4. Reference Interview 101 by Bradley Shipps


  1. Bopp, Richard E. and Smith, Linda C. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction, Second Edition. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1995. p. 37.
  2. Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. edited by Joan M. Reitz. ODLIS
  3. Reference Interview. Wikipedia Article