Ready reference

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Ready reference is the most basic reference service provided by librarians. Majority of the questions asked in public libraries tend to be ready reference type questions. Ready reference questions are “quick-fact questions” that can usually be answered within two minutes, using one or two reference sources. Usually the answers to the ready reference questions can be found using almanacs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, handbooks, or yearbooks. Ready reference questions can be considered trivial, but “one person’s trivia is another’s major concern,” (Katz, 1992, p.278) and therefore should not be treated lightly.


Sometimes a ready reference question can take more time to answer because there is no standard reference source to consult, requiring the librarian to do more research. Some “tricky questions” reference librarians had were published in a column called, “Exchange” (1984-1999) in RQ (now Reference and User Services Quarterly). In later columns, answers were published with the help from other librarians. The Stumpers list is another place for “librarians (and others) to discuss reference questions which they are unable to answer using available resources, including the Internet and local interlibrary loan capabilities.” Also, ready reference questions can sometimes be the opening question to a more in depth inquiry. Users may start out asking a simple ready reference question that leads to a more comprehensive question on that subject.


People can ask ready reference questions in person at the library’s reference desk, call in using the telephone or use the live virtual reference service. Recently, the internet has been replacing reference desks as a place to go find answers to ready reference questions. Many libraries are also setting up ready reference websites, where the users can search the online sources listed. Some ready reference questions are more quickly answered using traditional paper resources than electronic sources. However, electronic sources are more up-to-date than paper resources, but the subscription cost can be high.


According to Katz (1992) ready reference queries may be classified according to the five W’s:









Some examples of ready reference questions:

Who is the world’s tallest person?

Who is the governor of California?

What is the velocity of a rocket?

What is the history of the peace symbol?

What are the rules for soccer?

Where is the nearest post office?

Where is the center of the United States?

Why do clocks run clockwise?

Why does water boil?

When was the light bulb invented?

When did Thanksgiving become a national holiday?

How long is the Amazon River?



  • Anderson, C. (Ed.). (1984-99). Exchange. (Electronic version). RQ. Retrieved November 21, 2006, from
  • Bopp, R. E., Smith, L. C. (Ed.). (1991). Reference and information services. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Katz, W. A. (1992). Introduction to reference work (6th ed.). San Francisco: McGraw-Hill.
  • Puacz, J. H. (2005). Electronic vs. print reference sources in public library collections. (Electronic version). Reference Librarian, 44(91/92), 39 - 51.
  • Reitz, J. M. (2004). ODLIS — Online dictionary for library and information science. Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from
  • Stumpers. (2003). Retrieved November 21, 2006, from


Soo Jin Kim