Tips for Conducting Learning Interviews

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

August 24, 2021

This post gives tips and best practices for interviewing others from whom you wish to learn. (It is not a post about interviewing for a job.)

This summer, I have been conducting interviews for posting to this blog. Summer felt like a good time to switch focus, and take time to learn from others. I conducted interviews with Barry Grant, the Education Director at the Medical Library Association; Liza Vick from the Music Library Association; Amelia Nelsen and Traci Timmons about their new book The New Art Museum Library published by Rowman and Littlefield; Judith Iacuzzi, the Executive Director of the USA Toy Library Association; and Lucrea Dayrit who is involved with the Special Libraries Association and works at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. There may be a few more interviews coming as well. 

At the suggestion of others, I have decided to share some tips for conducting this type of interview. We are not always comfortable asking people questions and digging to learn more. However, there is a lot of value in taking the time to learn from the experience and work of others. Outside formal learning settings, rarely do we have opportunities to ask questions of others and learn from their experiences. 

Here are some tips I compiled while conducting these interviews: 

  1. Determine how you will use the interview(s): Will you share the information with your internal staff? Is the interview for your own professional/personal growth? Is the interview intended for library stakeholders? Will you post the interviews online? 
  2. Identify from whom you want to learn: First, you must determine who possesses knowledge, and has had experiences you want to learn about and possibly share with others. 
  3. Be bold: Be willing to send the email or make the phone call and ask for an interview. The person may not respond or they may decline, but they may also say yes.
  4. Become familiar with their work: In order to ask good questions, you need to have some background on the work they have done. 
  5. Ask an initial set of questions: I have found that asking 8-10 questions is a good place to start. This gets the conversation going without feeling overwhelming to the interviewee. **
  6. Ask follow-up questions: When you want to learn more or if something is not clear, be ready to ask follow-up questions. In research studies, follow-up questions are called probes. 
  7. Share the final interview transcript with the interviewee: If you are sharing the interview with others, it is respectful to give the interviewee the opportunity to review the final transcript. They may want to change something they said, or word something in a different way, before the interview is posted. 
  8. Share the posted interview: If you are posting the interview online, share the link with the interviewee when it becomes available. 

I hope these tips are helpful and encourage you to ask others to share their knowledge and experiences. 

**I conducted all of this summer’s interviews via email. If you conduct your interviews over the phone, Zoom, etc. having a list of 8-10 questions is still a good idea. 

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets

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