Have the patron provide specifics about their question or topic. Get details!
What have the already done? Where have they searched? What search terms/combinations of words did they use? What worked? What didn’t?
2. Break down the topic into individual components.
What level of information does the patron need?
For lower division undergraduates, databases such as Academic Search Ultimate will probably cover the topic sufficiently.
Upper division undergraduates or graduate students may need more detailed, subject-specific information. In this case a discipline-specific database is probably best.
Is there a single best database? Is this a topic that crosses disciplines and will need to be searched in more than one database?
How much information does the patron need (i.e. a short overview of a topic or multiple peer-reviewed articles)? This can help you determine what kind of database to begin with.
When do they need the information? If the answer is right now, they will be most successful in a database with full-text sources. If the patron is seeking an overview or just something to get started, a general source or an online reference source may serve them best.
Tips for Working with Patrons
Inexperienced patrons: Start with a database with broad coverage.
Upper division classes in a major: Introduce a core database in the student’s discipline.
Refer to databases by name, not by vendor.
Take advantage of teachable moments.
Try to minimize the number of databases, or at least interfaces, introduced.
Don't limit to full-text; show how full-text is usually available via links provided.
Stress the common features across most databases: multiple search boxes, information included in a list of results, ability to mark/save records, e-mail, etc.
Let patrons know that we do not expect them to become experts in the brief time we spend with them!
Use departmental library home pages to see what databases are recommended as starting points.
Refer patrons to subject experts as appropriate. Don't feel you must have all the answers!