Module 4: Keep Your Patron Informed

An important part of the search is keeping the patron informed as you work.

Let the Patron Know

You may find yourself rushing a bewildered patron from place to place in the library and assume they understand what you’re doing. That’s probably not the case! As you are working on a question, keep the patron informed about what you are doing. Patrons can add valuable information to aid in your search if you explain how and where you are looking and often appreciate the chance to learn more about the library. The following are helpful phrases to keep the patron informed about the progress of your search:

  • “I’m going to check our online index to magazine articles now to see if we can find an article about your subject.”
  • “Let’s look in the county agency handbook to see if we can find that address.”
  • “I need to be away from the phone for a minute while I check our catalog.”
  • “Why don’t you have a seat so I can share my computer screen with you?”

Be Sure the Patron Understands

  • Try not to use library jargon. Patrons may not understand it and may be too shy or unsure to ask. Try to avoid terms like “circulation desk” (checkout desk may be better), “ILL,” or “main entry.” Even “reference” can be jargon, so try to use the verb for what you are doing instead, i.e. researching.
  • You may need to explain the resource you are using and why it’s appropriate for the question, as well as what the limitations may be in regards to currency or accuracy.

Keeping Patrons Informed in Virtual Reference

It is especially necessary to keep the patron informed with remote technologies where the patron cannot see what you are doing.

  • Include an explanation of your search process or strategy in your responses when possible
  • Send non-scripted information in small pieces, not large paragraphs, to help communication and reduce delay time
  • Try to let the patron know what you are doing approximately every minute – so that the patron does not feel abandoned
  • If you must be away from the transaction, send something for the patron to review or read until you return (quickly!)

Informing the patron in remote reference situations provides unique opportunities to improve information literacy skills. For example, use technology (such as co-browsing, scanning, faxing, etc.) to help guide patrons through library resources, when possible.

Major Point: Continue the reference interview as you search, keep the patron informed of your progress, and be sure the patron understands the information.