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Peer Research Consultants

Training and information for PRCs


RUSA is the Reference and User Services Association, under ALA.

  1. Approachability
    1. Physical
      1. Immediately stop any other task
      2. Eye contact
      3. Smile or stand up
    2. Verbal
      1. "Can I help you?"
      2. "Are you finding what you need?"
  2. Interest
    1. Tell them the question is interesting - it can also buy you time while you determine how to proceed in the search
  3. Listening / Inquiring
    1. Let them speak without interrupting
    2. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions afterwards
      1. "Can you tell me more about that?"
      2. What have they already retrieved?
      3. What types of materials do they need?
      4. How far into the research are they?
      5. Where have they searched?
  4. Searching
    1. Show Research Guides
    2. Show essential databases
  5. Follow up
    1. "Would you like to explore any other resources?"
    2. "Will this be enough to get you started on your paper?"
    3. Provide their subject librarian's card.

How to Begin

Assignment 1

Think about a reference interview you have had with a librarian (public or academic).

  • Do you have an example of a time you felt you were not given the help you needed or were not listened to?
  • What did they do that was helpful that you'd like to use when working with a student?

Send a Microsoft Teams message to Karlene Clark and Brittany Fischer before beginning the readings below.

We have a choice to "give 'em the fish" or teach them to fish. It's our job to find the line between what they need and what they can do for themselves. Check in with the patron as you go and make sure you are still addressing the question they want answered. Whenever possible, have them do the majority of the work with only guidance from you. This is like showing them how to use our Reserve system - show them once, show them twice if you like, but then encourage them to try searching on their own with the tools you have introduced to them!

Be aware that the question they are asking may not, indeed, be the question they mean.

For example, asking for "something about tree frogs" may mean

  1. "I don't know. Frogs are just cool."
  2. "I'm actually looking to compare species of tree frogs for my biology class."
  3. "I'm looking to find out how many types of poisonous frogs live in the South American jungles."
  4. "I really don't care about frogs - I actually need to find out about the ecology of tree dwelling animals in the Australian Outback."

In each example, they are looking for different types of answers and resources! It's up to you to help them get to the heart of their true question!

Assignment 2 - Writing Reflection

After reading each of the following articles and watching the short Youtube video, please write a (minimum) two paragraph reflection on what you read. Please send responses to Karlene Clark and Brittany Fischer.


  1. What you agreed with
  2. What you may have disagreed with
  3. Something you learned
    1. What are some things to consider when assessing the patron's information needs?
    2. There is often a disconnect between what the student is asking for and what their information need really is. What are some open-ended questions you could use to help learn more about what they are looking for?
  4. Was there something you would like to learn more about?
  5. Anything you'd like to share or that really stood out for you.

Assignment 3 - Reference Interview #1

We are looking specifically to see

  • That you understand the RUSA ethics and how to use them during the interview
  • That you use the correct verbiage needed for a successful interview
  • That you ask questions, but do not automatically offer them keywords - do you provide wait time for them to respond
  • That you don't assume a direction for their topic - are you asking:
    • What class is this for?
    • What kind of resources do you need?

Assignment 4 - Reference Interview #2

After meeting with the team, and reviewing Assignment 3, choose a topic that might come from an upper class student (perhaps Psych 300). Do a more complete interview and fill in the Organizing Your Topic Sheet. Submit that with the interview and search plan.

Assignment 5 - Reference Interview #3, Polished

Now that you've visited with the team about how to properly do ethics, verbiage, and narrowing the topic, give us a final, complete interview that incorporates everything above.

Assignment 6 - Reference Interview Role Play

You're ready to try it! Working with a Lead PRC, go to the One Button Studio and have your Lead ask you a question. Record the interview and then submit to PRC supervision team. This will be the first time an evaluation checklist will be used.

  • 100 or 200 level assignments, start in Academic Search Premier
  • 300 or 400 level assignments, start in more advanced databases like PsychInfo or ERIC
  • Use Suggest Subject Terms box
  • Use Advanced Search
  • Note the recommended search terms that appear as you start to fill in the boxes


Use this starting with Interview 3 - you will be shown how it works. <videos forthcoming>


  • A Graduate Student comes in on the weekend and asks for help?
    • "PRCs are trained to assist undergraduates, and our librarians are off duty right now. What I can do, though, is get you started with a few subject terms. Here's a few of the best Research Guides to look in. I'd also like to show you our Ask A Librarian chat service. This is 24/7, even when we are closed. Before you go, hand over librarian card I know <Joe> would love to visit with your about your research. Please reach out to him; he'll respond as soon as he's back in the office."
  • An Undergraduate is working on a thesis project?
    • During a weekday.
      • "Due to the nature of the research, I'm going to refer you to your subject librarian. Hang on while I call him. make the call While we wait, I can show you a few Research Guides that might help you."
    • Weekend
      • See Graduate Student script above.
  • A faculty member or graduate student is being pushy, demanding, or does not want to go on to a subject librarian?
    • Just like our basic customer service training, let the person vent first.
      • Unless they are being abusive. If you at ANY point feel uncomfortable or unsafe
        • If in person, chat your buddy librarian or another librarian, asking them to come join you at the desk. This can be as simple as "Safety. Please come to Ask Us desk." We won't question it.
        • If in libchat, you may state that you are passing it to a librarian (and do so immediately) OR you may end the session. If you end it, let your buddy librarian know what happened.
    • Say "I understand. Here's what I can do for you. I'm trained to assist undergraduates, but I know your subject librarian can assist you better than I could, so I'm going to see if they are available." (and do so).
    • If they are still unhappy
      • Let them know which libguide or database may be a starting point.
      • "I understand. Here's what I can do for you. This X may get you started. I'll also send a message to <subject librarian> to follow up with you. I appreciate your patience."
  • They are having trouble accessing our databases.
    • Verify if they are from the medical school or law school (OT, PT, nursing, social work...)
    • Have them log into their home libraries
    • "I'm not associated with X library, but I can help you with some search terms to get you started. Before we do that, I'll also give you the contact information for your subject librarian" (show them how to find it)

LibGuides / Research Guides

One of the tasks you will be asked to assist librarians with is the creation of Research Guides.

Over the last six assignments, you have learned how to use them for searching and research assistance. Now, please see Karlene about having your own account created. She will let you know when it is ready, and either she or Brittany will provide basic training. All training accounts will be labeled as <(your name)’s Sandbox>. This is your personal guide during your time as a PRC and will stay until you leave the program.

You may use it to practice creating and deleting pages, learning how to work with tabs and boxes, and so much more. Maybe you want to have a page within it just for your own notes about what you are learning, as well as tips and tricks you discover!

This will not be a public page for others to see, but when you do have something basic set up, please email the team with the link and for a time to review and ask questions. They may have more tips to help you out before you start creating live guides for UND students!

This is not for you to create professional content. That needs to be on the guide the librarian is asking for it on. They will need to add you as an editor to the specific guide. There is a Best Practices Research Guide Template Guide that you can use.

Refining Your Research

Now that you are familiar with the RUSA guidelines, watch these videos from the Eng130 lessons about exploring and narrowing a topic to better assist you in the next step of your training which is to begin conducting reference interviews.


Now that you've "got a handle" on how this works, we're going to have you look at a few other areas.

Using what you learned with the Business Question assignment from earlier, along with the reference interview practice you did above, look at the questions under each of the tabs in this area. Some of them have transcripts or suggested answers, but in all cases, you'll go through each question as you have above.

  • Only work on one tab at a time.
    • Please include the questions in your write ups, along with the Search Chart as you work through it. It allows us to see your work and recreate it as we review the process
    • You may be asked to focus on these in different orders, based on the availability of each librarian.
    • In each question, ask yourself "What is my follow up question?" to help direct the search path. Put this on your search plan. (Especially if the initial question seems too broad or open ended)
    • Your knowledge base is still growing - remember that Google and Wikipedia are last resorts!
      • We want you showing patrons our libguides, our databases, how to search for books
      • Google Scholar is okay
      • You can ask the patron (or in this case the subject librarian or Karlene), then the subject librarian, and THEN go to Google
    • Make sure to complete the "analysis" at the bottom of the search plan. This is a review of your thought process going through the question and research - what went well, how you chose search terms and revisions, where you got stuck, if you decided to get the subject librarian to explain something, etc.
      • Some questions may be beyond you. Add a note on how long you worked on the research and if you feel there is a point you should refer it to a librarian.
  • Contact your supervisor when you complete one. She will schedule a meeting with the team and the subject librarian to review everything when you complete a section.
    • This may take a few days, as the subject librarian will need time to review your work.
  • It's important to remember as you meet with each librarian that everyone has their own way of doing these tasks! Keep track of the things you think will work for you. Add those tools to your "Sandbox!"


  1. I need to know how artists dealt with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.  Who were some of the major artists of that time and how was their work received?


  1. I want to know how the Vietnam War changed the climate of Rock and Roll. 


  1. What is a definition of religion?


  1. I need to describe a Spanish speaking country and create a poster highlighting different aspects of the culture
  2. I am taking French and want to practice, where can I find books in French? 


  1. I need to find this specific play that my professor recommended and I searched on your website and couldn’t find it.  Does that mean you don’t have it? 


  1. How to find information on education in North Dakota.
  2. How to find peer-reviewed articles on early childhood special education.


  • How to find systematic reviews on the topic of aerobic fitness and elementary school students.


  • How to find articles on school counseling and mindfulness.

Communication Sciences & Disorders

  • How to find articles on speech sound disorders.

Children's / Dewey Collection

  • How to find a culturally rich picture book.
For all questions, please include any follow-up questions you would have for the patron during the reference interview.
  • I need to find a physical book on climate change. 
  • I am doing a demonstrative speech on how to crochet. Can you help me find resources on this?
Criminal Justice 
  • How do I find peer-reviewed articles on policing in the US? 
  • Can you help me find an empirical article on mindfulness and meditation? 
  • I need to find information on a famous psychologist. Where can I find information on B. F. Skinner?
Social Science Interdisciplinary 
  • How do I find articles that look into how social media affects the mental health of college students? 


  • I need a dataset in ICPSR for my Sociology class. Can you help me find a dataset for North Dakota, specifically Grand Forks? 
Women & Gender Studies 
  • I'm doing research on the Women's Suffrage movement. How do I find more information about this? I'm particularly interested in learning more about Sojourner Truth and her role in the Women's Suffrage movement. 


  • I need an ethnography


  1. Where can I find information on current stock prices and look at price changes over time?
  2. I need help finding books about Nelson Mandela or his leadership style.
  3. You have been asked by a student if you can show them how to find a specific article in the Wall Street Journal. Three weeks later a student asks a similar question, "Do you have the Wall Street Journal?" - Demonstrate how you assist both patrons.
  4. I am looking for a SWOT analysis for Menards. How do I find that?
  5. I'm in MGMT 475 and need to find everything I can about the financials and status of a company and its competitors.
  6. I am looking for demographic information about Cass County. - include how the patron would be able to share the information.

Political Science & Public Administration

  1. What is the state of the current debate in Congress about poverty in the United States?
  2. I need government materials related to the Supreme Court, and which cases they are currently reviewing.


Ethan is the last one doing it as below.


  1. Find information about Coca-Cola including company profile, SWOT analysis, company financials, and related industry information
  2. Find peer-reviewed articles on leadership theories
  3. Find industry financial ratios for the food and beverage industry
  4. How to do a marketing analysis for an outdoor recreation business in Grand Forks County, North Dakota
  5. Find labor data and economic statistics, such as job outlook, unemployment trends, and GDP Projections

Political Science & Public Administration

  1. I need articles to support a Eurobarometer or other type of survey dealing with immigrants in Europe that I found in the ICPSR. 
  2. I need government materials related to the Supreme Court, such as which cases they are currently reviewing.


  1. ASTM Standards.  I need the ASTM E8 Test Methods for Tension Testing of Metallic Materials
  1. How to find Chemical Engineering Plant Cost Index? How do I find Chemical Prices?
  2. Find geological engineering articles.
  3. Find mechanical engineering articles.
  4. Where do I find the American Chemical Society (ACS) Style Guide?
  1. Do you have information on the history of the Fighting Sioux mascot? 
  2. Groundwater and pollution in <a specific region>? (you pick a region)

1. Biology research paper on salt effects on Brassica rapa.

Each of the following starts with a brief scenario.  Answer the questions and then provide the search plan.



"We're studying aviation synonyms and near-synonyms. You know, things like aviation - aerospace - aircraft? Can you help me find some for DRONES?"

  1. Provide a few examples.

“My teacher says I need to find some pilot studies and I don’t know where to go.”

  1. What are your follow-up questions?
  2. Spend a minute or two looking up what “pilot studies” are.  What are they, and where are they common?
  3. Let’s say that–and you might not expect this from the second question–that the patron is looking for articles about pilot mental health. 
  4. Provide your search plan and a screen shot.

“I need to find some trends in the airline business.  My teacher wants me to look at trade journals.”

  1. Provide your search plan and a screen shot.

"Where do I find FAA airport construction regulations?"

  1. Provide URL or Primo hyperlink.


Space Studies / Earth System Science & Policy

  1. How would I find resources about potential technologies for clean drinking water?

“I need to find some articles about the Moon landings.”

  1. What questions would you ask the patron next in the reference interview? Why?
  2. If the patron needed historical news articles from the Apollo program, where would you suggest?
  3. What if they needed NASA publications about Apollo?
  4. Provide your search plan and a screen shot.

Atmospheric Sciences

"I want to find articles about weather conditions, such as trends in Pacific Coast hurricanes."

  1. Provide search plan and screen shot or hyperlink.

"I need to find articles about climate change."

  1. Provide search plan and screen shot or hyperlink.


  1. I'm looking for an article published by N. N. Bogoliudov and B. I. Sadovnikov in 1962. Not sure of the title or journal?
  2. Do we have access to Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics or Chemical Physics Letters?
  3. Where are the physics books?


You're ready to move on to learning how to do online chats, which means you should also have access to the the Reference Team. See Karlene or Brittany about getting you added! This will allow you to know what the librarians are up to and who is on shift (or if someone trades a shift).

The Evaluation Tab to the left has a few forms you will need to start using at this point.

  • Your first 10-15 interviews, in person or online, need to have either Karlene or your buddy librarian at your side. When the visit is completed, send your buddy librarian the link for them to evaluate how you did.
  • Always, you will provide the link for the student to evaluate how you did.

Make sure you read the tab about LibChats as well - there's information beyond just the chats that you will need to know!