Module 3: Model Behaviors

Specific behaviors and actions improve reference service success

Model Reference Behaviors — A Checklist

In addition to approachability, working with the checklist of model behaviors, making patrons comfortable, and using successful reference interview skills will ensure peak effectiveness when working with a reference patron.  Consistently followed, these powerful techniques can have a much greater impact on the success of reference than the size of the collection or the number of years of experience and education of the staff.

Reference Behaviors Checklist

  • Approachability
    • Smile
    • Make eye contact
    • Give a friendly greeting
    • Make natural eye contact
  • Comfort
    • Speak in a relaxed tone
    • Go with the patron
  • Interest
    • Maintain eye contact
    • Make attentive comments
    • Give patron full attention
  • Listening
    • Do not interrupt
    • Paraphrase
    • Clarify
  • Inquiring
    • Ask open-ended questions
    • Verify
  • Searching
    • Try to find the answer
    • Search other sources
    • Keep patrons informed
    • Offer referrals
  • Informing
    • Speak clearly
    • Check if the answer is understood
    • Cite sources
  • Follow-up
    • Ask “does this completely answer your question?”
    • Ask other follow-up questions
  • Additional Virtual Reference — Specific Behaviors
    • Be friendly
    • Include an explanation of your search process or strategy in your response
    • Send non-scripted information in small pieces to help communication and reduce delay time
    • Try to let the patron know what you are doing approximately every minute, which ensures 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
    • Try to strike a balance between speed and professionalism when adapting to the patron’s comfort level with the software
    • Use correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization
    • Fully cite all sources quoted or used in responses
    • Type like you talk — conversationally
    • Use the patron’s name if they have provided it.
    • Avoid yes/no responses. These can be interpreted as cold and unfriendly.
    • Clarify confusing terminology and avoid excessive jargon.


  1. Print the Model Reference Behaviors Checklist if you haven’t already done so.
  2. For a period of one week, monitor your behavior while working with patrons. Work through the Model Behaviors Checklist.
  3. Which behaviors are already part of your routine?
  4. Which behaviors do you need to incorporate into your interactions with patrons?
  5. Record the spoken questions or instructions used when working with the patron.
  6. Discuss your results with your supervisor.

It’s helpful to observe other staff members who are successfully working with patrons and learn from them.