The Art of Asking Questions

The answer to a research question often is multifaceted and ongoing.

June 3, 2013

Well-trained librarians bring to their jobs an ability that is elegant in its simplicity and yet vital to successful project outcomes. 

It requires:

While this skill is a primary focus for librarians, in particular, you also can incorporate it—with a  positive effect— into your workday. 

No, it’s not “shushing.”

It’s the art of asking the right questions.

Librarians conduct “reference interviews.”  When we’re asked for information, we clarify the need with several follow-up questions.  “Give me everything you’ve got on mergers” isn’t really what anyone wants.  Do you want bank or credit union mergers?  Are your concerns about governance or member service topics?  Do you seek historical data or current statistics? 

Initial inquiries are frequently vague.  As we talk through an issue and the purpose is understood, however, it begins to make more sense.

Realize and appreciate the importance of asking the right question at the right time.  Often, it’s exploring a thought that provides an important answer not even up for initial debate.

Research findings this week will help illustrate the many issues that surround and impact a single question as we explore various facets of retirement.  When—or if—to retire is a complicated question with many considerations.  Do you understand these issues?   Can you help clarify needs for your members?

Questioning retirement: vague for some seniors

“Giving them everything you’ve got on retirement…” is not really what they want.  So let’s focus on a few facts.  First, let’s consider one retiree’s story as an example, knowing this is but one possibility for consumers, as we attempt to define the information need.

Sheila Taymore’s story is profiled in a Boston College post, “Retirement Countdown: Sheila Downsizes.”  “She is like millions of U.S. baby boomers struggling, often imperfectly, to prepare financially for…retirement.”

Sheila’s painful decision to downsize her home is one many seniors face as home equity is a major asset.  But other expenses associated with a move come into play, including realtor fees and repairs.  Such expenses can complicate the process.

Sheila shares her further challenges with managing investments and balancing her expenditures, which include “needs” as well as “wants.”  Retirement will force many to change spending habits, which can have emotional repercussions, in order to survive.

What are a few other prevalent trends we can identify in the landscape?

In U.S., Average Retirement Age Up to 61” says Gallup.  The current average retirement age--at 61--is up from age 57 in 1991 and is indicative of more than economic change.  The article contends the increase reflects “changing norms about the value of work, the composition of the workforce, (and) the decrease in jobs with mandatory retirement ages…”

Furthermore, “37% of nonretired Americans say they expect to retire after age 65; 26% say they expect to at age 65; and 26%, before age 65.” 

Are Americans Prepared for Their Golden Years?” asks Pew Research in “Retirement Security Across Generations.”  This interesting study challenges us to be forward thinking in our retirement readiness inquiries, as the report analyzes the impact of the recession on the financial retirement security of baby boomers in comparison with younger and older age groups. It concludes that “younger age groups face the greatest prospect of downward mobility in their golden years.”

Gen-Xers have taken the greatest hit, losing 45% of wealth--$33,000—to further lessen existing low levels of retirement funds.  “…Gen X-ers will have enough resources to replace only about half of their preretirement income…”

What are some of the life events that  impact retirement security?  Another survey helps to answer this salient question. 

“…The vast majority (90%) of Americans ages 50 to 70 with $100,000 or more in investable and retirement assets have experienced at least one “derailer”—an economic or life event that has had an impact on their retirement savings goals,” says an Ameriprise survey

Read this interesting report to learn about common and expensive retirement “derailers” for consumers:

The report also presents plans for retirement fund recovery.

Retirement funding solutions for some are evident as “Retiring Baby Boomers are Selling Their Small Businesses,” according to CNBC.  “In the first three months of this year, the number of sales that closed jumped 56% from the same time in 2012…”

Reportedly, “retirement was the No. 1 contributor to business sales in the fourth quarter of last year and the first quarter of 2013.”  Read this article to learn how small-business owners are taking advantage of prevailing trends in small-business sales.

Advantages to another solution—delaying the time when beginning to claim Social Security, is outlined by Boston College in “Getting What You Need for Retirement.”  “Take someone who’s [age] 60 and could get $10,000 per year by claiming Social Security today.  That would increase to more than $13,000 per year by waiting until 66 and to more than $17,000 by waiting until 70.”

Also of note, “…the benefits of holding off for one, two, or several years is equivalent to a higher rate of return than any insurance company annuity is willing to pay these days.”

Expenses for the aged are another consideration for retirement readiness.  See the Genworth 2013 Cost of Care Survey which indicates “The cost of receiving care in a setting such as an assisted living facility or nursing home is dramatically increasing, while the cost to receive care at home through (home health aides or homemaker services) is rising at a much more gradual pace.”

This report dramatically demonstrates the importance of advance financial planning regarding health- care issues for seniors.

What’s our answer?

The “answer” to a research question is often multifaceted and ongoing.  It may require continuing dialogue as an issue evolves and changes. 

When you consider your next project, think carefully about how to best define your information needs.  Ask questions of yourself and your colleagues.  Thoughtful preparation in assessing a topic will allow you to narrow its focus and to concentrate on appropriate resources.  Don’t be afraid to think aloud.

And, of course, you can always ask a librarian!






Lora Bray is a research librarian at CUNA.