Give Them What They Need, Not What They Want

Answering a question with a question is considered rude by etiquette experts, and psychologists say it’s a good indication you’re lying. But if you’re a librarian, it may be the best way to help you discern what kind of information your clients really need (as opposed to what they say they want).


That’s what Kate Vilches and Cory Hutchinson and their fellow librarians have learned while working with their internal customers at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. After their customers ask them if they can provide certain types of information, the librarians come right back with questions of their own.

“We find that knowing the end result or product that our research supports can help us better meet our customers’ needs,” Kate and Cory write in the May-June issue of Information Outlook. “When we neglect to ask the ‘why’ question, we risk providing information that is not grounded in the proper context.”

Asking questions enables the librarians to provide decision-ready information, which Kate and Cory define as “information that is specific, tailored, and delivered in a format that allows the customer to quickly make an informed decision.” Through a series of case studies, the authors show that their questions often lead to information that their clients didn’t think to ask for—and didn’t know they needed.

“In addition to raw data, our customers want and need actionable information that facilitates faster and more informed decision making,” they write. “Librarians in all settings can accomplish this goal by shifting their research paradigm from the information the customer requests to the information the customer needs to accomplish what they want to do.”

Read more of what Kate and Cory have to say about tailoring information to meet customers’ needs in their article in Information Outlook.

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