Undergraduate and postgraduate students in a North American University are choosing to use chat reference services for all kinds of reasons


  • Gill Needham Open University




A review of:

Ward, David. “Why Users Choose Chat: A Survey of Behavior and Motivations.” Internet Reference Services Quarterly 10.1 (2005): 29-46.

Objective – To investigate reasons why undergraduate and postgraduate students choose to use chat reference services and their satisfaction with the experience.

Design – User survey.

Setting – Large academic library in the United States.

Subjects – A total of 341 library users took part in the survey. Of these, 79 were graduate students, 215 undergraduates, 21 staff, 5 alumni and 21 members of the public.

Method – A user survey form was posted on the library website for a period of one month (March 2003). Users of the chat reference service received an automatic closing message asking them to complete the survey. Responses were fed into a database to be analysed by the research staff. Additional data was also gathered about the behaviour of all users of the chat service during that period – both responders and non-responders.

Main results – The most popular reason for choosing to use a chat service was the desire for a speedy response, followed by ‘distance from the library’. Responders chose to use chat to ask a range of different kinds of questions. Nearly half (45%) were looking for a specific resource and 23% were seeking help at the beginning of their research. There were notable differences between undergraduate and graduate students. Twice as many undergraduates as graduates used the service to help them get started on their research. Graduates were three times as likely as undergraduates to be using the service to address technical problems they were having with the website. Overall satisfaction with the service was extremely high, with 77.5% rating it 5 out of 5 and 94.5% giving it 4 or 5 out of 5.

Conclusion – Chat reference services are popular with users primarily because they are quick and convenient. However, users expect that these services will be able to deal with all types of questions, including help with research. This challenges an assumption by library staff that the medium is only suitable for short factual enquiries and general questions about library services. It is suggested that a detailed analysis of the chat transcripts from this period could provide a valuable addendum to the survey results.


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Author Biography

Gill Needham, Open University

Head of Strategic and Service Development




How to Cite

Needham, G. (2006). Undergraduate and postgraduate students in a North American University are choosing to use chat reference services for all kinds of reasons. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 1(1), 96–97. https://doi.org/10.18438/B8059W



Evidence Summaries