Out of the Question!...How We Are Using Our Students' Virtual Reference Questions to Add a Personal Touch to a Virtual World


  • Lorna Evelyn Rourke University of Guelph Library
  • Pascal Lupien University of Guelph Library




Objective - To investigate the types of questions students ask and the language they use in virtual reference. It is hoped that this examination will provide understanding of students’ needs and thus improve/enhance library services.

Methods - Over 600 virtual reference transcripts were reviewed, analysed and categorised. This work was focused on three levels of analysis: broad categories based on the general type of question being asked, subcategories based on the specific question and the language that students used to ask their questions.

Results - Students are primarily using the library’s virtual reference service for higher-level research assistance rather than using the tool to obtain quick answers to simple questions. The two most common types of questions involved staff providing detailed information or instruction on a topic. More specifically, the most frequently occurring type of question was related to finding journal articles on a given topic. Our analysis of the words students use to ask their questions confirmed that students and librarians often do not speak the same language.

Conclusion - The results of our analysis of students’ needs and language can help us understand our users. This study demonstrated that our library can enhance services in five areas: online services, collections, relationships, staff skills, and the library as place.


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Author Biographies

Lorna Evelyn Rourke, University of Guelph Library

Lorna Rourke is an Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and a lecturer at the Faculty of Information & Media Studies, University of Western Ontario. Lorna holds MA and MLIS degrees from the University of Western Ontario and has presented and written on topics related to information literacy and reference services.

Pascal Lupien, University of Guelph Library

Pascal Lupien is an Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Pascal holds an MLIS from the Université de Montréal and has written a number of articles and conference papers on making library services more accessible to users.




How to Cite

Rourke, L. E., & Lupien, P. (2007). Out of the Question!.How We Are Using Our Students’ Virtual Reference Questions to Add a Personal Touch to a Virtual World. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 2(2), 67–80. https://doi.org/10.18438/B8C01J



Research Articles