Module 4: Look It Up

Do the search, verify the answer, and cite your sources.

Finding the Right Information

The goal of reference is to find the right information for the patron. Even if you are sure you know the answer, look it up! It is important to verify the information found and avoid giving inaccurate answers because of poor searching or a hasty, one-stop web search.

Reference sources do not always agree on the facts. Two different sources or websites may have conflicting information, or we may miss the most authoritative source or site completely. The patron should always be shown what source you are using so that they can judge the answer. Even when you are stating something obvious to you, be sure to qualify your answer.

Don’t Just Google It!

“Google it” is a common phrase, but good reference work is never that easy! Not all search engines perform the same way or cover the same number of sites. Sometimes a subject guide (directory) site or a news site is a better place to look it up. If you can’t find anything, try a metasearch engine to search several engines at a time ( or, for example).

All search engines do not follow the same rules for retrieval. Know how a search engine lets you select “any words” or “all words,” for example, and how to do phrase searching. Sites resulting from your search may appear on the list because of the number of sites which link to them, the number of times a keyword was used on the site, or because it may have been engineered specifically to get hits from search engines.

Cite Sources

Share all information sources with the patron.  This is especially important when answering a telephone or online request, because the patron can’t see what you have. A good practice is to name the source before giving out the information. This allows the patron to make the determination about the accuracy and reliability of the information.


  • “I’m reading from the U.S. Government Manual, 2015-2016, and it says that…”
  • “I have the 2016 World Book Encyclopedia here, and in the article on Egypt it says…”
  • “I found the answer to your question on the American Library Association website at …” (Remember, the patron won’t know what ALA means, even if this is obvious information to you.)

Major Point: Always look it up, even when you think you know! On the web, look it up with the most appropriate search engines, and cite sources for print or web.