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Instruction via chat reference: does co‐browse help?

Stephanie J. Graves (Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USA)
Christina M. Desai (Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 1 July 2006




The purpose of this research is to determine whether instruction would be welcomed by instant messaging (IM)/chat users, whether instruction is possible in this medium, whether it can be effectively provided, and if the use of co‐browsing enhances learning.


Two studies were conducted in which IM/chat reference transcripts were analyzed and patron surveys collected. This research paper compares results from these studies, the first based on use of text‐only IM software, the second using commercial chat software with a co‐browse feature.


Findings indicate that patrons welcome instruction, whether they ask for it or not, and are satisfied with chat/IM as an instructional medium. Librarians usually provide instruction, though they are more likely to do so if patrons ask for it, directly or indirectly. Co‐browsing was used little and did not increase the amount of instruction provided. Patron question format had an impact on the likelihood of co‐browsing. Despite a high rate of technical difficulties, co‐browsing was very well received by survey respondents.

Practical implications

Findings suggest more training on the importance of instruction in virtual reference is needed.


Providing instruction via reference is an established practice at the physical reference desk, yet few studies of instruction in virtual reference have been conducted and none on co‐browsing as an instructional tool. This study addresses the need for research on instruction in the virtual reference environment.



Graves, S.J. and Desai, C.M. (2006), "Instruction via chat reference: does co‐browse help?", Reference Services Review, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 340-357.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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