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, Pascal Lupien


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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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18438/B8C01J

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