Patrons asking a reference question are often experiencing a variety of emotions – they may feel they have failed by not finding an answer by themselves, be embarrassed about their own research skills, or be uncertain that a librarian is the right person to ask their question. As representatives of the university, there can also be a perceived power imbalance which can affect both patron willingness to ask questions and forthrightness in presenting a research need in full. Cultural differences may also affect how a question is initially presented and expectations for an encounter.
Building a patron’s trust is a key factor when working with longer or more complex research questions. Finding ways to relate to a patron’s experience, and sharing your own successes and failures as a researcher can help build this trust. The ability to make small talk and recognize patron efforts to make a human connection during the initial phase of a reference interview can help smooth the transition into an in-depth conversation about academic research needs.