Analysis of Question Type Can Help Inform Chat Staffing Decisions




A Review of:

Meert-Williston, D., & Sandieson, R. (2019). Online Chat Reference: Question Type and the Implication for Staffing in a Large Academic Library. The Reference Librarian, 60(1), 51-61.


Objective – Determine the type of online chat questions to help inform staffing decisions for chat reference service considering their library’s service mandate.

Design – Content analysis of consortial online chat questions.

Setting – Large academic library in Canada.

Subjects – Analysis included 2,734 chat question transcripts.

Methods – The authors analyzed chat question transcripts from patrons at the institution for the period of time from September 2013 to August 2014.  The authors coded transcripts by question type using a coding tool created by the authors. For transcripts that fit more than one question type, the authors chose the most prominent type.

Main Results – The authors coded the chat questions as follows: service (51%), reference (25%), citation (9%), technology (7%), and miscellaneous (8%). The majority of service questions were informational, followed by account related questions.  Most of the reference chat questions were ready reference with only 16% (4% of the total number of chat questions) being in-depth. After removing miscellaneous questions, those that required a high level of expertise (in-depth reference, instructional, copyright, or citation) equaled 19%.

Conclusion – At this institution, one in five chat questions needed a high level of expertise.  Library assistants with sufficient expertise could effectively answer circulation and general reference questions.  With training they could triage complex questions.



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Author Biography

Heather MacDonald, Carleton University

Health and Biosciences Librarian




How to Cite

MacDonald, H. (2020). Analysis of Question Type Can Help Inform Chat Staffing Decisions. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 15(2), 156–158.



Evidence Summaries