Successful Searching

Finding the answer in the first source you check is one of the six model reference behaviors. In order to be successful, you need to know your sources and have effective searching skills. If you understand how information is organized, you will be able to think broadly about effective sources.

The key to successful searching begins with getting the correct question. How you think about getting the answer directs the methods you will use. Once you know what the patron actually needs, you can start the search.

Break down complex questions into manageable parts. See if it can be restated or organized differently to help find the answer.

Mentally and physically review tools you have on hand as well as tools you know about for answers. Don't stop with books, magazines or common indexes. Remember pamphlet files, government agencies, universities, online databases, backup reference sources, or experts.

Consider all possible index terms. Use broader terms and synonyms to open more areas of possible information.

Try to think about who might know something about this subject. Search for experts in the field. Continue the reference interview to see if the patron might have more information. Going to another staff member, making telephone calls to potential experts or sources of information, networking or asking others is usually a good idea.

Never hesitate to admit to the patron that you don't understand the question. They will generally be glad to explain and will appreciate your interest in the subject. You can start with a dictionary or encyclopedia to provide some background if needed.

Being flexible while searching will give the best results. If you are clear on the question, you can always find resources for answers. Your job is to always get the question first, and then search for answers.

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This page was updated on October 25, 2003.