What`s a Reference Question? - Dauphin County Library System

Reference Question Training
• Just what is a “reference question.”
• This may seem trivial
• But it is important that you
understand what is meant by that
Click on the response you think best answers the
Training Presentation
• This is a self-guided PowerPoint
• Please view this in slideshow mode or
else the links and buttons won’t work.
• Throughout the slideshow, you’ll see
questions and you’ll be presented with
possible answers.
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Usually, whichever answer you click will take
you to a new slide.
But sometimes, you’ll just get another text
Click here to see an example.
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begin the session. Enjoy.
A. Where are the photocopiers?
Which one of these is a reference
B. Do you have any information about
the invention of the Xerox machine?
C. Can you help me with the copy
Right! This is a reference question.
What makes it a reference question?
A reference question is a reference
question, regardless of whether we can
answer it or not.
A. We have a book that can meet the person’s
information need.
B. This person asked the question at the reference
Just because the question was asked at
reference doesn’t mean that it’s a
reference question
C. It required referring to our catalog to find an
answer or resource for this person
…involves the…use…of one or more information sources…
•From the definition by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
Since we had to use the catalog to
find something that could help
this person, that qualifies as a
reference question.
Try another one!
Where are your dinosaur books?
Is this a reference question?
Yes it is.
…involves the knowledge…of one or more information
•From the definition by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
Just because you don’t have to look up dinosaurs in the catalog
doesn’t mean it’s not a reference question. You may well know
that dinosaur books are in the 567.9’s from past experience.
That’s “knowledge of one or more information sources.”
Try another one!
“Where are the photocopiers?” is a directional question.
• This is a question that you could answer
simply by pointing
• It requires a knowledge of the layout of
the building and its facilities
• But it doesn’t require any specialized
knowledge of our collection or resources.
Try Again
“Can you help me with the copy machine?” is a technical
assistance question.
• It requires a working knowledge of our machines and
how to operate or troubleshoot them.
• It doesn’t require any specialized knowledge of our
collection or resources.
• Instructing people in the use of specific programs (like
MS Word to write a resume or using one of our
databases) however, is a reference question.
Try Again
Which of these is NOT a reference question?
• Where’s your latest John Grisham book?
• Where are your biographies?
• Do you have a copy of Sizzlin’ Sixteen
This is reference instead of directional because
you need the catalog or web resources to
answer it. And if you know it because you’ve
already checked for someone else earlier, well
that counts as “knowledge” of our collection.
This is also a reference question. Just like the
John Grisham question above, you would have to
refer to our catalog to see if a copy is available.
Right! “Where are your biographies?” is a directional question,
not a reference question.
Try another one!
Wait a minute. “Where are your books about photocopiers?” is a reference
question, but “where are your biographies?” isn’t? What’s going on? What’s the
A. Looking for a subject is different than looking for a section of the library (i.e. biographies,
fiction, paperbacks, etc…)
B. Many libraries have signs indicating where the biographies are located. If there’s a sign, that
makes it a directional question.
C. There isn’t a difference. These arbitrary rules from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
are just to confuse you because, secretly, they hate librarians.
OK, now you’re just picking the wrong
answer on purpose, aren’t you.
The Office of Commonwealth Libraries
doesn’t secretly hate librarians. The rule isn’t
arbitrary and there really is a difference.
Try Again
There are many signs in a library. Just because
a sign is up doesn’t necessarily make
something a directional question.
Try Again
• Just like asking about a specific title
or author
• You would need to take advantage
of our catalog to help this person.
• That makes it a reference question
• Not all “where are…” questions are
• If they’re looking for subjects
•that’s reference
• If they ask for a section, like nonfiction or biographies
•that’s directional.
Try another one!
Technical Assistance or Reference?
“Hey, what’s wrong with this thing? I was
just chatting with people I’ve never met in
real life when the computer stopped
Technical Assistance
Right! It’s a technical assistance question.
Technical Assistance examples
• When you unfreeze one of our computers
• Demonstrate logging in with a library card
number and PIN
• Checking someone’s SAM account
There is, in fact, a very short list of question types that aren’t reference questions…
Not Reference
•Directional questions
•Questions about basic account information – PIN
numbers, items out, renewals, etc.
•Questions about rules or policy descriptions
•Basic equipment help
All other questions are counted as reference.
Try another one!
…involves the… instruction in the use of one or more information sources…
•From the definition by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries
This isn’t a reference question.
A reference question requires:
• Instruction in the use of a specific
• like how to research one of our
Try Again
What about when you just can’t find an answer or resource for someone?
A. Do you shrug and conclude that the information doesn’t
B. Do you suggest to the patron that they might get better
results with your manager or somewhere other than the
C. Never surrender! Never give up! There’s some secret
keyword combination somewhere out there that’ll get
Google to give up its secrets.
How does it feel when some indifferent and uncaring customer service lackey gives you the
“whaddya want ME to do about it?” look?
Don’t be that lackey.
Even if you can’t help a patron directly:
• Refer them to a colleague, your manager or
even an outside agency
• They might have more specialized
knowledge than we do.
Try Again
Yep, as long as we can point somebody in the
right direction, we’ve done our job.
• the appropriate resource may not
necessarily be part of our collection.
• The appropriate resource could very well
be an organization out in the community or
a more specialized library somewhere else.
• Or it may even be a colleague working next
to you or on the other side of the building.
• These are called referrals.
• They count as successful reference
transactions and they should be tallied.
Try another one!
This is a very admirable sentiment and can often lead to success in many endeavors in life.
• You’ve got too many people to help to let one
person take all your time
Check Out
• While you may be able to find an answer if you work
at it for half an hour or 45 minutes, the patron isn’t
necessarily best served that way
• You can refer them to your manager or our
reference department
• These folks may know our resources better and
have gone to school to learn advanced research
• Remember, referring a patron to someone who can help them better is
still a successful transaction. So don’t be afraid to point them in the right
Try Again
“OK, I’ve got kids in school and they’ve all got homework. I need
books about dinosaurs, the solar system, Vincent van Gogh and what
the Mississippi River represents in Huckleberry Finn.”
How many reference questions are
included in this query?
Careful, it may look like it’s all one
question, but it’s not. When there
are multiple subjects in a question,
each subject counts as its own
reference question.
Nope, sorry. There’s at least
one reference question here.
Right! When you have to
research multiple subjects, each
subject counts as an individual
reference question even though
the patron may ask for them all at
the same time.
So each of the following…
1. Dinosaurs
2. The Solar System
3. Vincent van Gogh
4. And the meaning of the Mississippi River in Huckleberry
… are reference questions.
Try another one!
“I’m looking for Small Favor, Turncoat
and Changes by Jim Butcher. I also
need Rachel Caine’s IllWind, Heat
Stroke and Chill Factor. The kid wants
Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books,
yup, all of ‘em. Oh, while you’re at it,
throw in the Stephanie Meyer Twilight
books for the missus.”
How many reference questions is this?
There’s more than
four reference
questions here.
There’s more than
one reference
question here.
This is 15 reference questions.
“Hey wait a minute,” you might be thinking,
“how do you get 15 reference questions out of
that mess? I thought author/title checks only
counted as one question?”
It’s like this
• If someone asks for one title and author, that’s one reference
• If someone asks for multiple titles from one author, that’s
one reference question per title.
• Just like each subject search is a reference question, each title
check is a reference question.
• Every time you have to check our catalog to see if we
own a title, count that as a reference question.
Try another one!
What should you do with every reference question somebody asks you?
1. Umm, answer it?
Well, yes. To the best of you’re ability, provide a
resource, an answer or a referral. But there’s one
more thing you should do when you get a
reference question.
2. Answer it and then move on to the next question.
3. Tally the question.
OK, yes, you’ll have to move on to the next
question, too. But before you do that, there’s
something else you need to do.
Yes! Tally the question.
• This isn’t just some weird DCLS thing
• The Office of Commonwealth Libraries keeps track of
library usage across the State of Pennsylvania
• including how many reference questions get asked
• This data is used by organizations like PaLA to advocate
for libraries in places like the State Legislature
• Every time you tally a question, you provide more
evidence that the people of Pennsylvania and Dauphin
County find libraries are
• important
• relevant
• and useful
Almost there
Good job!
If you’re seeing this screen, you made it through
the presentation. So, now you know all there is
to know about reference questions, right? Right?
Short Summary
of the
A reference question is one that requires you to
take advantage of our collection or resources in
order to answer.
Remember, “resources” can mean anything from
an individual book on the shelf, our catalog, the
World Wide Web or even your colleagues.
And for those who love legalese, here’s the
legally binding definition of a reference
question, too.
“A reference transaction is an information
contact that involves the knowledge, use,
recommendations, interpretations, or
instruction in the use of one or more
information sources by a member of the
library staff.”
•Commonwealth Libraries

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