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Reference Guide for Library Staff and Students

When do I answer a reference question?

As a library staff member or student worker, one primary responsibility is to answer questions that library users may have about locating books, journals, articles, and other sources. Such questions may sound like:

  • Do you have this textbook in the library?
  • Where can I find articles about...?
  • My professor says to locate this book, journal, or article?​

If encountering this situation, begin by asking the patron a series of questions. Those questions are known as the reference interview, (see reference interview tab).

This interaction should last no more than 3 minutes. 

If the reference interview is longer than that or if you are unsure about how to answer the question, suggest emailing or meeting with a subject librarian.

How do I address the reference question?

  • Demonstrate a positive and friendly attitude on chat and on the desk.
  • Identify, search, and become familiar with some of the popular or basic library databases such as Academic Search Complete.
  • Perform the basic reference interview.
  • Refer to other sources such as the library subject guides when necessary.
  • Become familiar with searching so that you can confidently navigate through the catalog when assisting patrons.