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Reference and Reading Advisory

teens talkingWhy We Do The Things We Do

Good service to children means that both reference and reading advisory are provided for children of all ages.  Reference service helps people find information.  For children this is frequently to help complete daily homework assignments or to do reports and projects.  There are also many times you help adults find information for their children or for themselves.  The librarian’s task is to determine what the child needs, to assist in the use of library and information sources, and to guide the child in the choice of library materials.

Reader’s advisory is similar to reference in that the librarian assists the child in locating materials, but these materials are for leisure reading instead of school related reading.  Hobbies, pet ownership, sports, and games are a few topics that a child may ask about.  Fiction for leisure reading may include all genres from romance to horror.  Keeping a varied collection that the staff is familiar with will help them assist in recommending books to children.

Find It Virginia offers Virginians free access to many databases. Use it to find:
Magazine and Newspaper Articles
TV and Radio transcripts
Encyclopedia and other reference tools
Company profiles and Investment Reports
Health and Wellness information
and More.
All it takes is a library card

Ideally, a reference collection should include resource in all the standard areas of study.  If your budget is limited, however, you may have to use the adult reference collection a good bit.

There are some subject that children request year after year.  Most schools focus on a few major projects each year:  Black History Month, Women’s History, Science Fair or Project, and assignment involving writing a book report or paper.  There will be greater demand for reference service when these projects are due.  Make sure to tell the person or committee directly responsible for ordering children’s materials about areas of frequent use.

Remember to show your patron how to use the online catalog, Find It Virginia or text in order to help him or her learn to help himself or herself.

When a patron asks you for help and you have checked the catalog to find call numbers of books and materials on the subject requested, go to the shelves with the patron to help them find the materials.  If that is not possible, point them in the right direction and tell them you will check back to see if they have found the resources and that they are satisfactory for the task at hand.  Many times children are hesitant to interrupt the librarian or to say that information the librarian found is not satisfactory.

Asking if the information is answering the question opens up the opportunity and will help the child make good use of the time spent in the library.  To provide good readers advisory service, the librarian should read some of the books in the children’s area.  It is difficult to recommend materials without having reading, listening or watching them.  School Library Journal, Booklist and VOYA provide good resources for a quick introduction to different titles.

Reference Interview

The most difficult aspect of helping patrons, regardless of age, is to discover what they really seek.  A little detective work will have to be done and you must not be afraid to do it.  Continue to ask questions until you get the smile or bright look that tells you that you are on the right track.  Age and grade level will determine how extensive and complex the students work will be.

  • Be approachable and offer help before they ask.  As you walk around the children’s area, ask patrons if they are finding what they need. If not, help them.
  • Be sure to ask if the he or she has the assignment with him or her.  If the student or adult can provide you a copy of the written assignment, answering the question will be easier.
  • Ask open ended questions that cannot be answered with “yes” or “no”
  • for example:
  • What kind of information on —- are you looking for?
  • Could you tell me what you are working on?
  • What do you need to know about—?
  • Give me an example of the kind of information you need.
  • Restate the question you believe the child is asking and ask him or her if that is correct.
    • For example:
    • So, you need information on five different products produced in Virginia.  Is that correct?
    • What I hear you asking for is just a few facts about George Washington, not a whole book about him.  Is that correct?
  • Clarify with the patron whenever necessary.  Find out of he or she needs to take a book, or DVD home with him or her Or if he or she may use reference materials in the library.  Determining assignment due dates, age level of materials needed, how much information is need (enough for 1 paragraph or 5 pages,)  and whether the copyright of the materials matter will assist in providing accurately what is required.
  • Ask the patron if he or she reviewed any other materials that was helpful and what stage of work process he or she is in (beginning, middle or end)
  • Go to the shelves with the patron. After finding some information sources, ask if they are sufficient and if they answer the patron’s question.

The following are essential elements in providing good reference service for people of all ages:

  • Speak to them in a pleasant tone of voice.
  • Show an instant willingness to help
  • Make eye contact with the patron
  • Have an non-judgmental attitude
  • Inspire confidence that you have done all you can to find the information.
  • Be trustworthy by maintaining the patron’s confidentiality.

While most people work well with open ended questions there are times when yes and no questions work best.  If you get too many “I don’t know” or notice that the person has difficulty formatting an answer, due to a communication disorder – such Autism spectrum disorder, switch to questions which may be answered with yes or no.

Libraries and Autism We’re Connected


The resources you and your patron may want to use will depend on the type of question asked.


Directional questions usually ask location or library hours.

  • Where is the restroom?
  • Where are the picture books?
  • What time do you close?

The “where” questions could be answered by pointing someone in the right direction.  They do not require research skills

Ready Reference

Ready reference questions ask for specific facts.

  • What is the telephone number for the White House?
  • Where is the tallest building, in the world?

These may be answered from general encyclopedia, almanacs, and directories in the ready reference collection or on Find It Virginia.

Specific Search

Specific search questions ask for brief information.  These answers are usually sufficient for writing a short report or for personal interest.  Encyclopedias, magazines, or local newspapers often will answer these questions.


Research question ask for detailed information from a variety of sources.  Usually, children need this kind of information for long reports and projects.  Often they need a specific number or type of sources.

This above article is based on Children’s and Youth Services Staff Handbook et al Elaine M. McCraken published by Georgia Public Library Service in 2002.  Used with permission

Things Making Librarians Look Stupid

by Chris Rippel

Chris Rippel conducted an informal survey and put together a list of things that all library staff should know.  The list is found at the Library Worklife volume 1 number 8.


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