You’re Only As Good As Your Last Reference Request

By , March 7, 2011 12:00 pm

by Kristine Lloyd

I know this will spawn arguments to the contary, but a little sparring is good for the soul. Since I started working as a reference librarian, I have always thought that I am only as good as my last reference request. Yes, perhaps this is extreme, but I have certainly wondered why good old “Of Counsel Bob” never seemed to wander back in the library, or “New Associate Susie” seems to avoid eye contact in the halls. Thankfully, I am not a total nitwit, but I have definitely had my successes and failures, as we all do. Of course, the antidote to a little falter at the reference altar can often be intercepted by some good old-fashioned customer service.  

Even though we’re beaten over the head with customer service mantras like “the customer is always right,” we don’t always emphasize the specifics of providing customer service in our library world. I recently read an article on The Lawyerist, and even though the article is aimed at lawyers providing customer service to their clients, the advice is still apt for us. Here a few highlights from the article:

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate: This is a no-brainer, and yet, in our haste to burn through the reference projects piling up on our desks, we often forget to go through the reference interview. If we ask the right questions and clarify the requester’s desired outcome, isn’t there less chance of a reference blunder?

Help Me to Help You: One of my favorite questions that a colleague occasionally asks of patrons when she gets a real quagmire of a question is this: “when you receive your answer, what will it look like?” This seems so elementary, and yet, often our lawyers aren’t even sure what it is they need. When you ask them specifically what they hope to find, you aren’t stuck translating their legalese.

Are We There Yet?: One of the most important things you can do in a reference interaction is to set expectations. Can you do a legislative history of the Dodd-Frank Act in five minutes? Can you identify and summarize all of the jury verdicts dealing with medical malpractice for a meeting in 20 minutes? In order not to set yourself up for failure, you probably want to set appropriate expectations and give the patron a sense of how long the project will take, along with what they can expect to receive from you.

Certainly, there are other nuggets of wisdom out there about customer service, and I’m sure you have your own great tips to add to the mix. Go ahead and tell us a few. Save me from my next reference pitfall!

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