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Reference Interview from a Support Perspective

With Covid-19 the classic reference desk interview seems well in the past - for at least for a while, and emails seem the safest bet. When I started at ByWater Solutions mid-2019, doing a reference interview via tickets/emails was a challenge I faced for the first time.

I worked in a special library as a reference librarian and was very comfortable with interviewing my patrons for their reference needs in person and over the phone. Starting at ByWater Solutions on their Support Team forced me to look at the reference interview in a different way.

Some of the usual reference tricks still work. I like to repeat key works in my response. I look at the wording to get clues of what is being asked and the comfort level of the person sending the email.

An obvious blocker with ticketing is there is no facial expression or body language. It is amazing how much humans we detect from just looking at each other. For me this is tough. I like talking to patrons and having a conversation with them. Email can seem very sterile and dry like Sergeant Friday on the old TV show Dragnet “Just the facts, ma’am.”

However, I found not all is black and white with tickets. I have learned to read some tickets as if the writers are “talking”. It helps make an email request less automated. I can’t put a face to it but having a voice does make it more human, even if it is in my head. When I do this, at times I can pick up through their words a better sense of what they are trying to convey and see where more questions are needed to get what is wanted from a ticket.

Sometimes a ticket has just too little information or is vague. This is frustrating for both sides. I don’t want to delay the ticket getting answered and neither does the patron. With email tickets, there is no such thing as too much information! With an electronic conversation, there are noticeable pauses. Because of the delays in this “interview”, I try to make sure that I put in as much as possible into the response to cover what different directions the requestor might be heading. The same is true for the patron. Send whatever you can: screenshots, exact items or descriptions that are causing the problem, the steps that you did, or links to help. As the person who is trying to help fix a problem, I love it when a ticket is like this!

I hope these few tips help with an email reference interview.