Module 1: First Contact

Identifying the information needs of your patrons

Meeting the Patron

Everyone who lives or works in your community needs information. Discovering the needs of each individual who comes into the library calls not only for skills with library resources, but also your best people skills, starting from the minute you come in first contact with the patron.

The First Question

The first question a patron asks is often simply a conversation opener — a way to say “hello.” Often, patrons are really just trying to find out if you are an approachable, friendly person. The patron is actually saying, “Hello, I’m here. Please pay attention to me.” Sometimes these opening statements are recognizable right away. The patron may ask, “Do you work here?” or “Can you answer a question?”

Sometimes, however, the first statement sounds like an actual, specific question, when actually the patron is still just feeling you out. You may get questions like, “Where is the section on dogs?” or “Do you have a history of Italy?” There is almost always a more specific need behind those initial questions.

Discovering that need will help you do a much more efficient and successful job of helping the patron. In the above cases, the patron may be looking for the address of a Cocker Spaniel Club, the local leash law, a map of Italy, the history of Rome, or an evaluation of tour companies that go to Sicily.

First Contact in Virtual Reference Services

Users’ first contact with library reference services may be on the library website or through other types of virtual or remote reference. ALA Guidelines suggest that the library “should provide prominent, jargon-free links to all forms of reference services from the home page of the library’s website, and throughout the site wherever research assistance may be sought out. The website should be used to make reference services easy to find and convenient.”

Major Point: A patron’s first question may be a way to find out if you are approachable and not an expression of the information need.