Research Project – Identifying Best Practices in Consumer Health Reference Interviews


Published: December 4, 2014 by Dr. Lili Luo

In spring 2015, I will start my RSCA funded project “Meeting Consumer Needs for Health Information: Identifying Best Practices in Consumer Health Reference Interviews”. This study will examine the experiences of librarians who work in medical libraries – experts at providing consumer health information, in order to identify best practices for consumer health reference interviews. Insight from these specialists can help public librarians, generalists who respond to reference questions on many topics.

A random sample of U.S. medical libraries will be selected. Using the membership directory of National Network of Libraries of Medicine, a total of 300 medical libraries will be sampled from all 50 states. Each library in the sample will be contacted by email, inviting their librarians to participate in an online survey. The survey will investigate the following variables:

  • Demographic variables – library setting and characteristics of the user community
  • The barriers respondents encountered during each of the five stages of the reference interview and the actions they took to overcome those barriers
  • Experiences answering consumer health questions in each service venue – in-person, telephone, online chat, email, and texting
  • Administrative and professional support that librarians received or wish to receive to improve their ability to provide health reference services (e.g., financial support for professional development; workshops organized by professional associations)

Public librarians have identified the need for training regarding consumer health reference interviews. The best practices identified in this study will provide new knowledge regarding how to address the challenges inherent in consumer health reference transactions and successfully conduct reference interviews. Thus, study findings will provide insight to practitioners as they seek to improve their reference services. Educators can also draw on this new knowledge as they develop programs that prepare public librarians to provide consumer health information services, including SJSU faculty who teach in the Master of Library and Information Science program, as well as educators who provide professional development programs. Better prepared librarians can deliver health information services that more effectively meet consumer needs.


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