The chat reference interview: seeking evidence based on RUSA's guidelines

Wyoma van Duinkerken (Texas A&M University Libraries, College Station, Texas, USA)
Jane Stephens (Texas A&M University Libraries, College Station, Texas, USA)
Karen I. MacDonald (Georgia State University Library, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Publication date: 27 March 2009



The purpose of this paper is to compare established reference interview guidelines (RUSA) with actual reference provider behaviors in remote reference transactions. The data is used to argue that specific reference interview “best practice standards” should be developed for remote access reference services.


Remote reference transactions were examined for evidence of adherence, or not, to the RUSA guidelines and behaviors. The transcripts were also coded for showing evidence, or not, of user satisfaction.


Data from 1,435 virtual reference transcripts shows that in 82 percent of the reference sessions the user found the information needed. Analysis also shows that librarian compliance with RUSA‐recommended reference interview behaviors, especially in the areas of listening/inquiring and searching is frequently poor – possibly due to time constraints.

Research limitations/implication

This study adds to the empirically‐based knowledge on the reference interview process and virtual reference services.

Practical implication

Reference policies and procedures can be modified to accommodate patrons based on type of reference access. Education and training of reference staff can be customized to meet patron needs.


This paper develops a methodology for evaluating the reference interview in a virtual reference transaction and suggests modification of the RUSA reference interview guidelines for remote access reference services.



van Duinkerken, W., Stephens, J. and MacDonald, K. (2009), "The chat reference interview: seeking evidence based on RUSA's guidelines", New Library World, Vol. 110 No. 3/4, pp. 107-121.

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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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