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Opening and closing rituals of the virtual reference service of the Internet Public Library

Jung‐ran Park (College of Information Science and Technology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Guisu Li (College of Information Science and Technology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Amy Burger (College of Information Science and Technology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 19 October 2010

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the communicative rituals of opening and closing manifested in e‐mail‐based Internet Public Library's (IPL's) online reference interaction.

Design/methodology/approach

A total of 400 transcripts comprising user queries and responses by IPL librarians are examined. The opening and closing elements are identified to examine the way in which IPL librarians and users construct social space; that is, communicate their interpersonal and affective stances during the course of seeking and offering information.

Findings

The results of data analysis show regular patterns of verbal and structural politeness indicators of opening and closing e‐mail discourse. Linguistic elements such as greetings and acknowledgement are included in all the sampled transcripts; i.e. a 100 percent occurrence. Closing rituals have a 95 percent occurrence of linguistic features such as acknowledgement and invitation for follow‐up. In contrast, there is a low occurrence of personalized openings through greeting by user name (26 percent). This lack of personalization also occurs in closings: personalized farewell through use of librarian name appears in only 8 percent of closings.

Research limitations/implications

The employment of the various politeness tactics in opening and closing reflects the librarian's attention and concern to user's information needs, interests and wants. Such communicative competence narrows social distance and brings forth close socio‐interpersonal space for interaction; this may, in turn, improve the overall quality of reference service. Research findings also indicate that more use of personal names may decrease the social distance between the librarian and user, resulting in increased solidarity and proximity.

Originality/value

The study provides new insights into linguistic politeness and the functions of address forms such as personal names with a view toward developing effective opening and closing rituals that contribute to the enhancement of virtual reference services.

Keywords

Citation

Park, J., Li, G. and Burger, A. (2010), "Opening and closing rituals of the virtual reference service of the Internet Public Library", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 66 No. 6, pp. 807-823. https://doi.org/10.1108/00220411011087823

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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