Are reference pop-up widgets welcome or annoying? A usability study

Bonnie Brubaker Imler (Penn State Altoona, Altoona, Pennsylvania, USA)
Kathryn Rebecca Garcia (Penn State Berks, Reading, Pennsylvania, USA)
Nina Clements (Penn State Brandywine, Media, Pennsylvania, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Publication date: 8 August 2016



The purpose of this study is to investigate user reaction to pop-up chat widgets for possible use as a promoter of online reference services in libraries.


Librarians at three different campuses of the Pennsylvania State University interviewed ten students at each campus. Librarians used a script to ask students to respond to various library websites and the potential utility of a pop-up widget. Students also responded to a sample chat widget and were asked to evaluate the timing of its appearance on the page.


All participants indicated on a timeline their preferred time for a pop-up to appear on a web page. Only 16 per cent of study participants had used the “Ask a Librarian” reference service from its current access point as a linked button on the libraries’ web pages. However, 83 per cent indicated that they would be more likely to use the Ask service if the widget appeared on the screen.


This research is unique, as there are no other studies in the library literature that explore pop-up chat widgets.



Imler, B., Garcia, K. and Clements, N. (2016), "Are reference pop-up widgets welcome or annoying? A usability study", Reference Services Review, Vol. 44 No. 3, pp. 282-291.

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