Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time, 7th edition

Apr 2017 | 192pp

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Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time, 7th edition
Thinking your way from problem to solution

Tim Buckley Owen

Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time is designed to guide information professionals through all the stages of research, from finding out what the enquirer really wants, to providing a polished, value-added answer.

When people want to satisfy their immediate curiosity they’re much more likely to use a search engine on their mobile device than ask their local library. But while the days of personal intervention in this kind of enquiry are inevitably numbered, the professional skills that underpin them are not. This book uses technology as the enabler of the thought processes that information professionals need to engage in when answering enquiries, and makes the case that new technology, far from making them irrelevant, raises the skill stakes for all.

Now in its 7th edition, this book is fully updated to cover new skills, such as:

  • employing critical thinking to manipulate, categorise and prioritise raw search results
  • using strategic reading and abstracting techniques to identify and summarise the essential information the enquirer needs from the retrieved documents
  • drawing on established story-telling practice to present research results effectively – whether orally or in writing
  • working to the POWER model: plan, organise, write, edit, review.

This book is ideal for anyone who has to answer enquiries from users in any information role; those working in contact centres who are dealing with information enquiries, processing transactions or trouble-shooting technical issues; and information professionals working on enquiry desks in large or small academic, public, school or special libraries. 

Introduction: Why thinking skills matter

Eight essential thinking skills for successful enquiry answering

1. What do they really want?

  • Using your analytical thinking skills to understand the question
  • Avoiding misunderstandings
  • Asking the right questions
  • Does all this really work?
  • Agreeing the task
  • Finding out how long you’ve got
  • Coming next – when the enquirer’s not there

2. Why remote enquiry handling is different

  • Anticipating problems by thinking empathetically
  • Can’t see, can’t hear – the risk of misunderstanding, even offence
  • Keeping your remote enquirer on-side
  • Keeping good records
  • Coming next – avoiding panic, thinking on your feet

3. Getting started

  • Dealing with the panic by thinking imaginatively
  • Imagining the final answer
  • Choosing the best type of source and delivery medium
  • Does all this really work?
  • Identifying actual sources
  • Coming next – smarter searching

4. Smarter searching

  • Developing efficient search strategies by thinking systematically
  • Who needs to be able to search smarter?
  • Working out your search strategy
  • Searching systematically
  • Making the most of indexes
  • Electronic search tools
  • Reading strategically
  • Making sure that what you find is reliable
  • Coming next – even more things that can go wrong

5. Help! Everything’s going wrong

  • Using lateral thinking to get out of difficulties
  • Vital versus urgent tasks
  • Your working timetable
  • Managing expectations
  • Plan B
  • Referrals
  • Coming next – adding value

6. Success! Now let’s add some value

  • Using your creative thinking skills to present your answer well
  • Quality-checking your answer
  • Presenting your answer – orally
  • Presenting your answer – in writing
  • Copyright, licensing, ethics
  • Has the answer arrived – and does the enquirer like it?
  • Sign-off: what can we learn from this enquiry?
  • Coming next – adding even more value

7. Don’t just give me another reading list!

  • Using critical thinking skills to add further value to your answer
  • POWER and KISS
  • Making your search results manipulable
  • Selecting, rejecting, prioritizing 140
  • Strategic reading – finding the best bits of each document
  • Capturing the content for your report
  • Now you’re ready to write!
  • Making sure your work gets read and valued
  • Coming next – choosing your toolkit

8. Choosing your toolkit

  • Using your predictive thinking skills to determine the resources you’ll need
  • Making best use of your Time, Intellect and Money
  • Keeping track of your enquiries
  • Discovering information in your own resources (and beyond)
  • Choosing and using the right search engine
  • Adding value to your search results
  • Starter Sources
  • Your goal: successful enquiry answering – every time


'In this book, now in its seventh edition and originally titled Success at the Enquiry Desk, experienced enquiry answerer and trainer Tim Buckley Owen provides a well-written instruction manual covering such skills, principally in the context of library services. Although each new edition has taken account of technological developments, the book is not technology led. Its focus is on the thinking skills which information professionals need, irrespective of the nature of the enquiries they receive. Owen succeeds in providing a valuable and informative guide to answering enquiries, written in a lively and accessible style which archive practitioners could constructively use either as a source of directly relevant advice or perhaps as a prompt to think about how aspects of this area of work might be carried out differently.'
- Matti Watton, The British Library, Archives and Records

"Owen is incredibly thorough in this exhaustive presentation of strategies and different outlets for research, which is what makes this text a strong pick for any information professional, but particularly for students developing their search strategies and those in academic, medical and special library fields."
- Audrey Hopkins, VOYA

Review of the previous edition:

"With its cutting edge coverage of contemporary developments, Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time is much more than was ever taught to trainee librarians. It is highly recommended for students, librarians, and library educators and also for anyone who has to answer questions in a contact centre or enquiry desk anywhere. Whether finding answers or teaching others how to find answers, this book is a goldmine of effective ideas." 
Australian Library Journal

Tim Buckley Owen BA DipLib MCLIP is an independent writer and trainer with over 40 years' experience of information work - at Westminster Central Reference Library, the City Business Library, and as Principal Information Officer at the London Research Centre. He has also held strategic media and communications posts at CILIP, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and the Library & Information Commission.


1. What do they really want?

In Chapter 1, we can use our analytical thinking skills to try to bring some order to the enquirer’s perhaps rather incoherent or incomplete request. In this chapter you’ll find out how to: avoid misunderstandings, ask the right questions, agree the task, find out how long you’ve got to do it and deploy your analytical thinking skills.

2. Why remote enquiry handling is different

In this chapter you’ll find out how to deal with enquiries that come in via a voice- or text-based medium, how to avoid even more misunderstandings, get into the habit of good record keeping and keep your enquirer on-side by thinking empathetically.

3. Getting started

Chapter 3 details how to imagine what the final answer will look like, decide what kinds of source will provide that answer, determine the best delivery medium to use, start identifying actual sources and exercise your imaginative thinking skills.

4. Smarter searching

In Chapter 4 Buckley-Owen shows you how to: avoid traps for the unwary, make the most of indexes and searching tools, read strategically, decide whether you can rely on what you find and above all, think systematically.

5. Help! Everything’s going wrong

In Chapter 5 you’ll find out how to: prioritize enquiries so the right ones get done first, think of compromise solutions when time’s running out, decide what to do when you can’t find the answer, • look for outside help and exploit your lateral thinking skills.

6. Success! Now let’s add some value

In Chapter 6 you will learn how to: quality check your answer, present it effectively orally, in writing or visually, make sure you’ve observed copyright and licensing requirements, confirm that the enquirer is satisfied, gather performance data and use your creative thinking skills to enhance your service.

7. Don’t just give me another reading list!

Chapter 7 will show you how to: manipulate, categorize and prioritize your search results, identify the essential information your enquirer needs, read key documents strategically instead of sequentially, summarize your search results in report form and use critical thinking for quick decisions on what’s worth using and what’s not.

8. Choosing your toolkit

Finally in Chapter 8 you’ll find tools to help you: keep track of your enquiries, discover information buried in your own resources and beyond, choose the right search engine and use it well, add value to your search results, get started on each enquiry and exercise your predictive thinking skills when deciding what to acquire.

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