In person vs. digital reference

I just realized that it’s been a while since I’ve written anything here.  I kind of miss it.  I guess there’s just not enough time in the day to work, study, and write…  but maybe there’s enough time in the week, right?  So I’ll see if I can make it here about once a week to add to my blog.  Maybe I’ll come up with something worthy of publishing (LOL).

I’m currently working on a paper about reference interactions.  The Professor wants us to observe in-person reference interactions and then test digital reference interactions to see what (if any) differences we come across.  One student mentioned being sorely disappointed in her digital reference experience, and another chimed in that he felt the same way.  I’m hoping mine will be a good one.

One of the things we’re supposed to look for is the “reference interview.”  It’s a way for the reference folk to find out what the patrons really want as opposed to what they say they want.  My in-person observation didn’t include any of this, so I’m wondering if it’s really used any more.  Do reference people use the interview any more?  Why or why not?

How does it function in an online environment?  Is it handled with a questionnaire at the beginning? Or is it ignored completely?   I suppose I’ll find out when I ask a digital reference question, right?



  1. Hey there. Reference interviewing is as much an art as a skill. It definitely isn’t always needed. I mean, “where are the scifi books?” doesn’t need a “do you really want the mysteries?” kind of question. But if someone asks for star wars, well, hey there is Star Wars the movie and which one? And Star War Defense System (a Reagan-era missile “defense” thingy. Sometimes you need clarification, eh? The freshmen who is doing a report may need a little more help, especially if accompanied by a parent. Ask the kid and the parent answers. hmpmf. The kids doesn’t really want to be at the library and doesn’t want to do a report…

    I do suspect that the ref interview is used less just because we have less in-depth questions coming our way face-to-face.

    The digi-ref setting is a whole nother animal. Fast and furious, nwim? Short and sweet and on to the next. The customer will let you know if you are not on target and the info needed does tend to be library related or a fast info need. Generally, if someone needs more, then they will get switched to email/phone/f2f.

    I personally refuse to say “Have I completely answered your question?” after a ref interview. (fancy ref training to learn that techique btw). Maybe a “come back if you need more help” or “do you have anything else you need help with?”

    Anyway we are less and less the intermediary to information, more a supplement, idea, advisory and support role.

  2. I have had reference interview trainning and I have to say that I don’t follow it in a formal sense. I try and ask more opened ended questions, but sometimes that confuses people. and I find the ” Have I completely answered your question” phrase rather awkward. If it has been a really invovled question – they may come back a number of days before we are done. If it is a less involved question, usually I follow up with something like ” do you have any other questions” or ” can I help you with something else” .

    I had Reference Interview trainning long after I started answering reference question. I think the trainning is great in helping remind you of the pitfalls and how to avoid them. But I also think Susan is right- we don’t get as many of the indepth questions as we did years ago. At least not in the public library.

  3. Tahnks for posting

  4. Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

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