To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Understanding library users’ preferences and expectations of online help

Tao Zhang (Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)
Ilana Stonebraker (Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)
Marlen Promann (Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 8 August 2016




Online help and tutorials are an important part of library services, yet they are often studied in specific contexts and disciplines like subject-specific research guides. The objective of this study was to examine users’ common preferences and expectations of library help channels in general and online help in particular.


The authors conducted a qualitative survey with 45 library users. The survey asked users how they seek library help, their preferences and expectations of online help, content format and general help channels and later, a content analysis of survey responses was performed.


Results showed that survey participants have different prioritizations of library help channels. Half of the respondents preferred conceptual help that emphasizes concepts and underlying principles, while the other half preferred procedural (step-by-step) help or mixed. The survey also indicated reliance by participants on expert help, even when online help was available.


Based on the results, the authors identified users’ behavioral preferences, attitudes and expectations toward library help channels and online help content. They also discussed the unique challenge of creating online help for libraries, as users have a dynamic range of help-seeking preferences and mixed expectations of help content depending on the context.



Zhang, T., Stonebraker, I. and Promann, M. (2016), "Understanding library users’ preferences and expectations of online help", Reference Services Review, Vol. 44 No. 3, pp. 362-374.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles