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Text reference service: delivery, characteristics, and best practices

Lili Luo (School of Library and Information Science, San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 16 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to present a detailed depiction of the text reference environment and its affordance, and suggest strategies to help librarians adhere to the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) behavioral guidelines in text reference service.


The author reviews the current text reference literature as well as conducts qualitative and quantitative analysis of reference services provided by My Info Quest, the USA's first collaborative text reference service.


Two models of text reference service are uncovered: mobile device based and computer application based. The considerations for developing a service are primarily defined as relating to budget, staffing, and usability. Text reference is characterized as somewhere between synchronous and asynchronous, increasing in volume, and mostly concerned with short, straightforward questions and answers. These factors all influence adherence to RUSA guidelines for behavioral performance of reference librarians, but are not insurmountable.

Research limitations/implications

More research is needed to better understand user experience with text reference service.

Practical implications

This paper provides ideas to help libraries effectively establish text reference service.


The paper presents a detailed set of considerations for libraries that are considering launching text reference service. It also outlines behavioral expectations for librarians providing that service.



Luo, L. (2011), "Text reference service: delivery, characteristics, and best practices", Reference Services Review, Vol. 39 No. 3, pp. 482-496.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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