Virtual Reference in an Academic Environment: Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of Users’ Information Needs
Puacz, Jeanne Holba
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This study investigates patrons' information seeking behavior and information needs demonstrated in the virtual reference environment, by examining the usage patterns and service effectiveness of virtual reference services in a large academic library. Both live chat and e-mail reference questions are analyzed quantitatively by mapping peak usage times, usage patterns, question types, and response times. Complete transcripts are considered qualitatively by examining the process of the reference interview, the correctness and completeness of the response, the authority of sources cited and recommended and the inclusion of follow-up inquiries. The results of an online survey asking patrons’ experience with virtual reference service are also analyzed. By examining virtual reference service provided by one large academic library, this study can provide insight into patrons' information seeking behavior and information needs for virtual reference service generally applicable to all academic libraries. Recommendations for service improvement to better meet patron information needs are proposed in response to this study’s findings.