ILS-504 Information and Reference Resources and Services
Reference materials for a specific population
Main index
Examination of tools Analysis of queries prior to a reference interview ©2003-2007 Amy Ranger

Analysis of queries prior to a reference interview

This was a course exercise that allowed me to work through a variety of reference queries. I analysed five questions on diverse topics: pumpkins, eggs, cat anatomy, edelweiss flowers and antique samplers, and radon.

“I am wondering when to plant pumpkins so that they will be ready to pick in mid-October.”

This seems like a fairly straightforward question.
The topic is: agriculture, specifically, the planting and harvesting of the pumpkin vegetable. This query would require a short reference interview: I would want to clarify the location of the garden (Is the garden local? If it is in a colder region of the country, the seeds may need to be planted indoors and then transplanted once the soil has warmed up). I would also ask about the purpose of the pumpkin (Do you have a specific variety in mind, or a particular purpose for the pumpkin [Pies? Carving? Growing giant pumpkins?]). The number of days to maturity after planting probably differs between varieties.

I think that an encyclopedia (either online or print) would be a good place to begin, followed by a visit to an agricultural extension agent website.

[But, in fact, the best information I found came from a 3-word search on Google: Pumpkin Growing Michigan]

The National Gardening Association website offers several articles on pumpkins, including these two:
Pumpkin and How to grow a giant pumpkin.

return to top

“Why doesn’t an egg you buy in a store hatch into a chick?”

The question is straightforward.

The topic is: eggs, production of (fowl: specifically, chicken).

My inclination would be to send the patron to a science/agriculture type of encyclopedia. However, having done this myself, I already know the information is scanty. I learn from visiting the website of the American Egg Board that most eggs in the grocery store are of the unfertilized type (which definitely will not hatch); but if the eggs have been fertilized, they must be maintained at a very warm temperature for about 21 days before a chick hatches. In other words, a fertilized egg may be purchased in the store, or from the farmer, but it will not develop into a chick unless it has been incubated.

One of the better websites I found came from a Google search: Fertilized Eggs Chicks. The first site I visited, Egganic Industries, led me to, which led me to the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Each of these sites provide abundant information on eggs and hatching.

I want to point out here that it would be beneficial for me to be able to see the patron, or at least establish a dialog with the individual in a virtual environment: am I dealing with a curious 8-year-old or a college freshman? The information found in the MSU Extension Service was great for me but may be too complicated for a child.

return to top

“How many bones are there in the body of a cat?”

The query is straightforward, but some qualifications may be necessary.

The topic is: cats: anatomy (specifically, the number of bones which comprise its skeletal structure). Further clarification required: does the patron have a specific cat (domestic vs. wild, small vs. large) in mind? I would turn to the library catalog first and do a subject search: cats. As it happens, there are three monographs in the library (in science reference, and in the general stacks) with a subject of Cats $Encyclopedias (see Notes, 1). I have one of those scientific book on cats in my home reference library. From it I learn that the basic skeleton is the same for Felis catus (the domestic cat) as for Felis silvestris lybica (the African wild cat): the skeleton contains “approximately 245 bones.” (see Notes, 2).

“I am wondering where edelweiss flowers grow. Do they only grow in the Alps? I bought a antique sampler that has English words and a real edelweiss flower. I am curious about the origin of the stitcher.”

This is a complex, multi-part query.

The topic for the first part is: Edelweiss flower and locations where it may be found growing wild.

An encyclopedia states that edelweiss is “the common name for a densely woolly perennial herb, Leontopodium alpinum, of the family Asteraceae found at high altitudes in Asia and Europe.” (see Notes, 3).
The topic for the second part of the query is: samplers, or perhaps: needlework, or maybe: embroidery.

A reference interview is clearly necessary. Is it known where the sampler was purchased? [We may be able to subdivided the topic geographically, for example: Samplers $Europe or Samplers $Germany (or other country, as necessary)]. Does the patron remember the English words stitched into the sampler? [Knowing the text or phrase may permit a search using the subdivision $Themes, motives]. A brief search of the library catalog reveals an illustrated book in our holdings with the subject heading Samplers $Europe $Themes, motives, so I would print the bibliographic record for the book and suggest that the patron take a look at it. I would also search for books using subject headings such as Needlework $Encyclopedias or Embroidery $History. I think that at this point the patron would have a number of printed resources to review, and that she could follow up with electronic resources later, either with me or on her own after she is more familiar with the topics.

return to top

“I am looking for information on how to get rid of radon in homes.”

This is a straightforward question. The topic is radon: environmental aspects.

A short reference interview may be necessary to determine if the patron is looking for in-depth references, or information that is more general in nature (which may be solved by doing a quick search in Google).

A quick search of the library catalog reveals that there are 16 monographs with a subject heading of: Radon $Environmental aspects.

A second search, for Radon $Safety measures $Handbooks, manuals, etc., yields 8 titles, most shelved in the Government Documents section of the library.

While the bibliographic records for a general book and the government document are printing, I run a quick search on Google, using the string Radon Safety United States. The fourth link on the results page is for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a link on that site leads to Radon publications, where I find a PDF of A citizen's guide to radon: the guide to protecting yourself and your family from radon. This same document is also found on the shelves in the Government Documents section, so I can offer the resource to the patron in multiple formats. I ask the patron to look over these resources and get back to me if she needs more assistance.

return to top


1. The dollar sign indicates a subdivision of the main subject.
2. Case (2003). p. 35.
3. Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. Edelweiss. Accession number fw00ed0108000a.

Works cited

Case, Linda P. (2003). The cat: its behavior, nutrition & health. Ames, IA : Iowa State Press.

Brenner, David J. (1989). Radon: risk and remedy. New York : W.H. Freeman.

United States. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Air and Radiation. (1992). Consumer's guide to radon reduction: how to reduce radon levels in your home. Washington, D.C. : U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Air and Radiation : For sale by the U.S. G.P.O., Supt. of Docs.

Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 6, 2003, from WorldAlmanac database.

return to top
Last updated 2007-06-10. ALR.