I Heart Poultry, or: The Importance of the Reference Interview

With Valentine’s Day coming up, this reference interaction popped into my head.

Now I normally don’t blog about specific patron encounters, but this one was years ago… circa 2003 when I was a newbie librarian.

A man approached the reference desk and asked a simple question:

Do you have any books on poultry?

With my newly minted MLS, I thought I better do a good reference interview:

Well, are you looking for books on any specific type of poultry: like chickens or turkeys? About farming, urban chickens, or feral? We have a fairly large agriculture collection. 

Wow, how self-important I sounded! It resulted in a quizzical look from the man. He said:

No! No! I’m looking for romance stuff.

At this point I’m confused. Chickens? Romance?

Then it dawned on me. He wasn’t looking for books about poultry. He was looking for books about POETRY. He wanted romantic poems. I misunderstood him.

You see, wanting to “impress” the patron with my knowledge, I should have just started the reference interview with a simple question: Can you tell me more about what you want to find? 

Problem solved and there wouldn’t have been a poultry/poetry dilemma. Lesson learned!

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7 thoughts on “I Heart Poultry, or: The Importance of the Reference Interview

  1. so much depends
    upon
    a red wheel
    barrow

    glazed with rain
    water

    beside the white
    chickens.

  2. I showed this to my Reference teacher in my Library Technician course and she laughed. Thanks for making us smile!

  3. elementary school teacher-librarian here. everything you know about reference interviews goes out with the window with children. anecdotal evidence:

    “Do you have those books? You know, the Papa John’s books?”
    “Hmm. The Papa Johns books? We might…can you tell me more about them?”
    “They’ve got that guy, Papa John or whatever, and he goes on adventures…”
    “Well, let’s take a walk around and see if you find something that looks like the Papa John’s books…”
    “THERE! THAT GUY!” *student is pointing to stuffed figure of Skippyjon Jones*
    “Aha, yep, we have a bunch of Skippyjon Jones books over here.”

    So yes, the “can you tell me more” is a crucial part…as is the waiting for something – anything – to click. :)

  4. Reblogged this on Database dweller and commented:
    Sharing a post I enjoyed – a funny anecdote about the importance of open-ended questions in the reference interview.

  5. Pingback: I Heart Poultry, or: The Importance of the Reference Interview | Natalie Felix

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