Patience in reference interview and instruction

My first week shadowing at my library’s desk was informative, enriching, and enjoyable. There were some very basic patron questions that required a short answer, some of which I already knew the answer from working at Library Help as a student (i.e., how do you print, where do you get color prints, can I set up my laptop for wireless campus internet?) A few questions were quite the opposite, and required extensive reference interviews by the librarians I was shadowing with the patron. As I watched two librarians in particular walk two different (visiting guest) patrons through the steps to search for and access K-State materials, I realized they were excelling in their practice of patience. Perhaps they didn’t think of it like this because they are qualified to deal with patrons in these situations, and have done it many times. I, however, behind my cool, calm facade was thinking in my brain, “Holy crap, just click the friggin’ PDF symbol and get the thing already!”

Allow me to back track. In the first situation, a visiting PhD student was on campus for only a short time and needed to find materials pertaining to her dissertation. The reference librarian first tried to contact the librarian in the Faculty and Graduate Services department who could help them more in depth, but couldn’t reach that person. So we sat with this patron and the library walked her through all of the steps, one by one, to navigate the K-State Libraries web site and get articles about HOW TEACHING LATIN IN K-12 IMPROVES STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES (wtf?? craziness but very interesting). Just getting to the first article this patron could use took a good 10 minutes or more. Getting it saved to a thumb drive was another endeavor in itself. I am used to getting electronic materials really quickly, because I have been doing it for more than a day. I forget that some patrons really are seeing our web site for the first time. I had to leave in the middle of the reference interview to shadow someone else at the help desk (I forgot to mention this happened during my weekly training meeting with this librarian, it wasn’t even time for me to shadow but he was called up front to help this patron. Yeah. That is how helpful he is). But he was with this patron for probably a total of 20-30 minutes before she seemed comfortable enough to move forward on her own, knowing she could come back to us with questions if she had any troubles.

The second situation was another visiting graduate student, who not only was a tad bit hard to understand completely, but was in a field that the librarian (a different librarian this time) wasn’t familiar with. She also called the Faculty and Graduate Services librarian who helps patrons with agricultural topics, but she wasn’t in her office at the time. So we sat with this patron and went through the same routine as the one before, helping him navigate the web site and search for articles that would be helpful for him in his research. We found a few articles that would be good, and later the patron found an article we needed to go retrieve from the stacks. So we went with him to do that, and he was good to read for a while on his own. I picked up on some good searching tips from this librarian during this reference interview, such as if you have an exact article title you need, but no other information, Google Scholar is a good place to search for it first.

The whole point of giving this background is this: THESE LIBRARIANS WERE SO PATIENT IN THESE REFERENCE INTERVIEWS AND I REALIZED I AM SO IMPATIENT. In both situations we were with each patron for quite a long time. Both librarians spoke so respectfully and politely to the patrons, so happy to help them figure out K-State Libraries web interface, even though both patron won’t even be here very long and may never use K-State’s resources again. Their patience, kindness, willingness to ensure patron comprehension of instruction, and encouragement to come back to us if any more questions should arise clearly made the patrons happy, as they were both smiling and incredibly thankful for all the help they received. These librarians were so successful in terms of customer service, and the fact that much of this was simply having patience really stood out to me. My goal is to keep this in mind when the time comes when I am out at Library Help on my own, conducting a reference interview, and to remember I don’t need to rush through giving the patron the tools they need to know how to search for the materials they need. The reference interview can be incredibly fulfilling for both the librarian and the patron, and patience is a key factor for its success.

Thank you for dealing with my wordiness.



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