Module 4: Discover What Resources Your Patron is Already Using

The best place to start your search may be with the patron’s original source.

Where Do You Start?

Make the search for the right source easier by discovering the patron’s source at the beginning. There is no substitute for knowing the reference sources in your collection, what subjects are covered in the resources, and where information on different subjects is located throughout your library. However, the first step in any good search strategy is to determine what the patron already knows and the source of the patron’s information.

Find Out the Patron’s Source

Finding out your patron’s initial source of information on a topic helps in your search to find what the patron really needs. The source can give clues to other sources and may also help you clarify the patron’s specific information need.

For example, one patron asked for the definition of the Native American  word “Cybis.” After a long and fruitless search, the librarian found out that the source of this word was an inscription on the bottom of a porcelain figurine of a Native American. The answer was then easy to find — Cybis is the name of a famous company connected with porcelain sculptures.

Web Sources

Part of reference is promoting information literacy. If your patron’s source was an unsatisfactory Web search, take the opportunity to work with the patron in conducting a more targeted Web search, using one or more of the most appropriate search engines. If the original source does not appear to be an authoritative site, discuss better options and how to evaluate websites.

Major Point: Discovering the patron’s source at the beginning of your search makes the whole process easier.


Once you know your patron’s question and initial source of information, you would frequently begin looking for information in the reference collection. In the following exercise and throughout this module you will be working with the library catalog and four basic reference tools, available in most libraries, to help you become acquainted with subject headings and index terms.

Select four reference books such as: 1) an encyclopedia such as World Book, 2) an almanac such as Information Please Almanac or World Almanac & Book of Facts, 3) a large dictionary, and 4) an atlas such as Goode’s World Atlas to use for the following exercise. Use online versions if that is the process in your library. Look for information about Ohio in each reference book.

  1. How many different places can you find Ohio information in each of the four resources? Use the indexes or table of contents to determine this.
  2. Which resources have the most information about Ohio?
  3. In addition to the four resources, where else could you find information about Ohio in your library?