Answering questions

Each answer to a factual question has three parts. They are:

  1. Where you are looking
  2. The source of the information
  3. The answer

Sometimes 1 and 2 are the same, but many reference books and resources cite sources for their information. So, you might be looking in the World Almanac, but the source of the information is the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you have to leave the telephone to look up an answer, put the telephone on hold if you can. This respects the privacy of other patrons' conversations in the library. Tell the caller what you are doing so they won't think they have been cut off. Warn the patron if you plan to leave the telephone for more than a few minutes. Three minutes seems like a very long time when you are listening to dead telephone silence.

If you canít find an answer, always offer to refer the question. Remember that you should have a deadline as part of the six pieces of evidence you gathered during the reference interview. You will know if the patron has time to wait for a referral to a backup reference services such as MINITEX, or whether you need to make a local or direct referral to another information source.

Never let a question drop because you can't find an answer right away. If the patron has time to wait, offer to call back after working on it.

Make sure the patron understands the answer. It helps to begin by making sure the patron is ready to take down the answer. "Are you ready for me to read this, now?" Spell difficult words or names, and check to make sure the patron heard you correctly. In fact, you can ask the patron to repeat the information back to you to insure that you gave the information correctly and that they transcribed it correctly. Speak slowly and distinctly, especially on the telephone.

Both the title and date of the resource you are using and the source of the information are important so the patron can evaluate the currency and accuracy of the information.

Go to Telephone reference.

Back to Keep track of where you searched.

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This page was updated November 24, 2003.