School of Information Sciences -- Faculty Publications and Other Works

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Library Journal

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CHAT REFERENCE PROVIDES NEW ways to interact with patrons. Research by Marie L. Radford of Rutgers University ( and Lynn Silipigni Connaway of OCLC (, supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, will replace suppositions about how chat conversations progress in ways satisfactory to both patrons and librarians. They are conducting focus group interviews, online surveys, and telephone interviews of virtual reference service (VRS) users and nonusers and VRS librarians. They also plan to examine over 1300 anonymous transcripts from chat services. Rapport-building, deference, and identifiable beginning and closing "rituals" all have a place in virtual reference. And as with face-to-face reference, some patrons and librarians are better at it than others.

Radford and Connaway reported on a sample of 300 transcripts at the 2006 Association for Library and Information Science Education meeting. They find that chat reference conversations are full of interpersonal "relational facilitators" and "relational barriers." Facilitators improve communication, while barriers have the opposite effect. (For more on the research, go to the project web site at research/projects/synchronicity.)

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