Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Reference Interview and Instruction in Reference Training

This guide accompanies the U of I Library graduate assistant training session.

Why does instruction in reference matter?

Context matters:

As members of the University of Illinois academic community we have a responsibility to provide our students with positive, impactful (transformative) learning experiences.

Learning matters:

Our work with students during a reference transaction should provide a hands-on educational experience that teaches them skills that will enable them to become self-sufficient, lifelong library users.

Professional standards matter:

Numerous professional organizations have developed standards and guidelines that focus on educating our users. They include the following:

  • RUSA Behavioral Guidelines
  • ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education

Teachable moments in reference


Teachable moments are:

  • Spontaneous
  • Dependent on the readiness of the recipient
  • Sensitive to the needs of the patron
  • Serendipitous

Tips and Strategies:

  • Listen!  The reference interview is key.
  • Who is your user?  Your approach should change when working with faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates.
  • Be patient and flexible, the learning styles of users vary.
  • Let the students do the work.
  • Look for body language cues in person.  How receptive is the user?
  • Look for moments to teach rather than push information out during chat.
  • Keep it short and to the point.  They are teachable moments.

Incorporating instruction in reference: Practice

Identify the teachable moment in each of these scenarios:

  1. A student approaches the desk with their laptop, saying that they can only find 2 articles on their topic. You notice that they have copied and pasted their whole thesis statement into the database’s search box.
  2. A patron says that they cannot find enough results on blockchain technology in Academic Search Ultimate.
  3. A RHET 105 student chats in and says that they need to find a scholarly source for their paper. They ask if an article from the Atlantic would count.