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Student Employee Reference Resources (PRSH)

This guide can be used as a helpful resource for students working in the Parrish Library.

Reference Interview Questions

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Welcome to the Parrish Library Student Reference Resources guide. This guide can be used to help patrons who ask research based reference questions, as well as a refresher for yourself, on what resources are available. 

The Reference Interview Process

Reference is used at the beginning stages of a research journey to...

  • Check a fact
  • Gain a basic understanding of an unfamiliar topic 
  • Find a reliable source for further reading/investigation

Use the questions in the flow chart below to help decide which resource or resources would be best for the patron based on the information they're looking for. This process is sometimes referred to as a "reference interview." 

reference question decision tree


Tips for answering reference questions

  1. Ask qualifying questions to figure out what the patron is really looking for. Sometimes patrons come to the iDesk asking one thing, but are actually looking for something else entirely. Asking qualifying questions can help you and the patron determine what information they are hoping to find.
  2. Pull out keywords from what they are saying. If you're not familiar with the subject area, pull out keywords you do know or keywords that you can look up to better understand what they are looking for. Googling these words or phrases can be helpful if you aren't familiar with the subject area.
  3. Don't be afraid to ask them to explain their question, or to restate it in another way. It can often be beneficial to hear the question in a different way. Sometimes, this is all it takes to point the patron in the right direction.


When helping patrons at the desk with their reference questions, keep in mind the following:

  • You're giving patrons a starting place to their research. 
  • Not every question has an exact answer.
  • Most of the time you'll find pieces of what they are looking for so look for clues, not exact answers.
  • Don't be afraid to direct them to Ask a Librarian or if you're unable to help them find what they are looking for or if they need additional assistance.