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Logo of jmlaJournal informationSubscribeSubmissions on the Publisher web siteCurrent issue of JMLA in PMCAlso see BMLA journal in PMC
J Med Libr Assoc. 2010 July; 98(3): 265–266.
PMCID: PMC2900994

Conducting the Reference Interview. 2nd ed

Reviewed by Cheryl LaGuardia, MLS

Marie L Radford, Kirsti Nilsen, Catherine Sheldrick Ross 
Conducting the Reference Interview. 2nd ed.
New York, NY, and London, UK: Neal-Schuman Publishers. 2009. (How-to-do-it manual no. 166). 225 p. $75.00  ISBN: 978-1-55570-655-5.

The authors state the purpose of this book very clearly in the preface: “this book is not about reference sources or about where to look for information. It is about understanding the user's information needs to the extent that the librarian knows quite specifically what to look for” (p. vii). This second edition adds an updated chapter on virtual reference to the book's content, and the authors note the myriad changes in reference and research in the seven years since the first edition was published, discussing in depth how technological developments have changed the reference context. The self-identified methodology here is a strong emphasis on a user-centered approach to reference (rather than a system-centered approach), and the overall aim of the work is to assist both individual practitioners as well as those responsible for developing instructional and training tools for programs in reference services.

The book is organized into eight chapters. Chapter one, “Why Bother with a Reference Interview?,” provides the theoretical foundations for the book. Chapter two, “Setting the Stage for the Reference Interview: The First Thirty Seconds,” describes basic skills necessary for making initial contact with researchers. Chapter three, “Finding Out What They Really Want to Know,” outlines common problems in reference interviews. Chapter four, “Beyond Negative Closure,” describes skills needed in later stages of the interview. Chapter five, “Special Contexts for the Reference Interview,” discusses telephone and voicemail reference, along with “imposed queries” (great term! When a user is seeking information on behalf of another). Chapter six, “The Reference Encounter in Virtual Environments” (which the authors note has been considerably revised since the first edition), involves “principles of communicating effectively in the [virtual reference (VR)] interview.” Chapter seven, “The Readers Advisory Interview,” covers the readers advisory (RA) interview, and chapter eight, “Establishing Policy and Training for the Reference Interview,” considers the institutional contexts for improving service through effective reference interviews.

Now down to brass tacks: Does this book deliver on its intentions? Having read the volume thoroughly, I can say with confidence that it absolutely does. The authors have come as close as possible to producing an extraordinarily informative, accessible, hypertextual product in a single, printed volume.

First, each chapter has a well-conceived, descriptive outline on its opening page that lists its subsections. In addition to this clear organization, the content is superb: The combination of research and personal expertise makes for a highly readable book. The language that is used throughout is understandable and, for this reviewer, down to earth, appealing, and colorful just when it should be (for example, two subsection headings in chapter one are: “Why Didn't You Say So in the First Place?” and “There Are No Bad Guy Users”). The basic text is peppered throughout with useful sidebars, including many “Did You Knows?”

In addition to the “Did You Know” sidebars, the book features highlighted “Exercises” (for putting theory into practice), pragmatic “Quick Tips,” and discussion sections called “Analyze This Reference Transaction,” as well as special sidebars emphasizing key points (such as “What Users Said About Not Listening,” “What Users Said about Taking the Question at Face Value,” and “Some Sense-making Questions”). And the up-to-date chat, email, and text-messaging information and advice in this edition justifies its purchase.

But the most compelling reason to read this volume is the amount and quality of knowledge and expertise, based on both research and experience, which come through in just about every sentence. These authors truly know whereof they speak. The book documents their research in bibliographies and data; the text that you will read, explore, and absorb conveys the depth and breadth of their proficiencies. Every library school student should read this book, and it will be useful to many practicing librarians as a renewing and motivating refresher course in public service. It is most highly recommended.

Articles from Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association