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Bradford College
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Library Help Guide for Library Staff: The Reference Interview

This guide is intended to provide guidance on the support that library staff will provide at the Library Information Desk

What is the Reference Interview?

The 'reference interview' is all about finding out exactly what the library user wants, and devising a strategy to help them. For Bradford College Library staff, this means asking the right questions, listening carefully, and providing clear and straightforward help and information. At the same time we aim to guide our users towards accessing our resources independently.

Types of Enquiries received at the LID

You will find that you get asked many different questions at the Library Information Desk.  These might include:

  • Advice about library resources
  • Borrowing books using self-service
  • Fines and Loans
  • Studying in the library
  • Help with Harvard Referencing
  • Research on a specific topic
  • Help with using print journals
  • Help with using online journals or other databases
  • Advice on copyright
  • Using the printers or photocopiers
  • Questions about college or other departments


The Reference Interview: tips

Start by showing that you are approachable, interested and giving your full attention (see the section on active listening)

Remember that library users will not always know or be clear on what they are looking for. Listen carefully but be prepared to ask questions to make sure you understand exactly what they require. For example, they may be asking for a book when a journal article would be more appropriate. 

Make sure you know when to refer to the Koha database, the library catalogue, an online subject guide, or the duty librarian or team leader.

Keep the library user informed as to what you are doing, for example, if you are searching for a book, or requesting help from the duty librarian. 

Quick checklist

Have you identified the full range of Dewey codes and locations (not just the first result) ?

Have you checked if an e-book is available on the library catalogue?

Have you pointed the library user to the Library Online guide for their subject to help them in the future?

Have you provided the library user with any additional information they asked for, eg about Learner Support?

Have you requested help from the Subject Librarian / Duty Librarian if required?

If you weren't able to help straight away, have you given clear information on when information or resources will be available?

Has the library user found what they are looking for (eg books, journal articles, links to ebooks, contact details for their librarian)?