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Developing and assessing a graduate student reference service

Robin Canuel (McGill University, Montreal, Canada)
Sandy Hervieux (McGill University, Montreal, Canada)
Veronica Bergsten (School of Information Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Canada)
Amélie Brault (School of Information Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Canada)
Rachelle Burke (School of Information Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 19 September 2019

Issue publication date: 28 November 2019



The purpose of this paper is to formally assess the training program received by information studies graduate students and the reference services they provided at a research-intensive university.


A qualitative content analysis was used to evaluate if graduate students incorporated the training they received in their provision of reference services. The students’ virtual reference transcripts were coded to identify the level of questions asked, if a reference interview occurred and if different teaching methods were used by the students in their interactions. The in-person reference transactions recorded by the students were coded for the level of questions asked.


The main findings demonstrate a low frequency of reference interviews in chat interactions with a presence in only 23 per cent of instances while showing that instructional methods are highly used by graduate student reference assistants and are present in 66 per cent of chat conversations.


This study is of interest to academic libraries who wish to partner with information studies programs and schools to offer graduate students valuable work experience. It aims to show the value that graduate students can bring to reference services. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of continuously developing training programs and assessing the performance of graduate students working in these roles.



Canuel, R., Hervieux, S., Bergsten, V., Brault, A. and Burke, R. (2019), "Developing and assessing a graduate student reference service", Reference Services Review, Vol. 47 No. 4, pp. 527-543.



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