Model Reference Behaviors

The following behaviors have been tested extensively for almost 20 years, and are effective in helping find the real information need and making sure the need is met. Consistently followed, these very powerful techniques can have a much greater impact on the success of reference than the size of the collection, the number of years experience of the staff, the number of staff, or the level of education of the staff.

These techniques are not difficult to practice. We all use some of these techniques from time to time. Successful reference librarians use the model reference behaviors consistently. Consistent use is the key to improving reference performance.

The Public Library Branch of the Division of Library Development and Services in the Maryland State Department of Education studied the impact of these “model reference behaviors”. You can read about them in an article by Ralph Gers and Lillie Seward in LIBRARY JOURNAL, November 1, 1985. It's called "Improving Reference Performance: Results Of A Statewide Study" (p.32-35).

Since the above article appeared, many others have followed studying the effects of model reference behaviors on the success of reference transactions. All have come to the same conclusion. Using basic reference techniques such as paraphrasing, open questions, and follow-up questions greatly increase the percentage of correct and complete answers received by patrons.

The Maryland group developed a "Model Reference Behaviors Checklist" which summarizes the behaviors that have the most impact on success in correctly answering questions. The checklist format is designed to let you and a partner help each other remember to use these techniques, but you can also use it alone as a reminder. A copy of the checklist follows on the next page, but here are the six model reference behaviors that form the basis for every successful reference transaction.

Notice that only one of these has to do with being an effective searcher, finding the answer in the first source you use We will cover searching extensively in the second part of the MORE Manual, but for now we will focus on the other five model reference behaviors. No matter now large or small your library or collection, you have control over these five behaviors, and using them consistently will ensure successful reference transactions.

Go to Model Reference Behaviors Checklist.

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This page was last updated on April 25, 2003.