Six Pieces of Evidence

What information should you get from the reference interview?

At the conclusion of a good reference interview before your start your search -- you should have as many of the six pieces of evidence as possible. You can use open probes, paraphrasing, clarifying and verifying to prompt patron's to volunteer this information efficiently and easily. You might need to ask for some information directly, i.e. deadline, but most of this information will come out naturally during a good reference interview.

The six pieces of evidence

PURPOSE

Why is the information needed? What does the patron plan to do with it? Material needed for a term paper on Cuba will be very different from material needed for travel to Cuba.

DEADLINE

Is there a date after which the information will no longer be useful to the patron? Ask, "What is the last day we could provide this information to you and still meet your needs?" If they say, "As soon as possible," tell them the library always gets information for people as soon as possible and then repeat your original question. A specific date is helpful for you and for a backup reference service.

TYPE AND AMOUNT

How much information is needed? In what form will it be most useful? Some material may be best understood as a picture or chart, or even in a different language.

WHO

How knowledgeable is the patron on this subject? Is the person an expert, or a beginner? What information does the patron already have? A person asking for information about a disease might be a doctor, nurse, student, or patient. Each of these people will have different information needs.

WHERE

Where did the patron hear about this? What is the source? What prompted the question? If all else fails, you can usually contact the original source to find more information on a specific topic. This is especially true for new book requests and for requests generated by television or radio shows.

THE BASIC QUESTION

What does the patron really want to know? If you don't understand, ask! Use your reference interviewing skills to get to the basic question.

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This page was last update on April 29, 2003.