The purpose of this paper is to compare user perspectives on visits to in‐person and virtual reference services conducted by participants in the Library Visit Study, an…
The purpose of this paper is to compare user perspectives on visits to in‐person and virtual reference services conducted by participants in the Library Visit Study, an ongoing research project.
This paper compares satisfaction rates, identifies staff behaviours that influence user satisfaction, and suggests how both face‐to‐face and virtual reference can be improved. Since 1990, participants in the Library Visit Study have been MLIS students who ask questions at in‐person and virtual reference desks, and report on their experiences. In addition to these accounts, students complete questionnaires on their experiences. Level of satisfaction with the in‐person or virtual transactions, based on the “willingness to return” criterion, are computed. Satisfaction is compared with other factors such as correctness of answers and friendliness of library staff. Underlying problems that influence satisfaction are identified. Findings – Data from 261 in‐person and 85 virtual reference transaction accounts (both e‐mail and chat) show that virtual reference results in lower satisfaction than in‐person reference. Underlying problems that are associated with user dissatisfaction were identified in face‐to‐face reference and carry over to virtual reference, including lack of reference interviews, unmonitored referrals and failure to follow‐up. Research limitations/implications – The number of virtual reference visits is relatively small (85) compared with 261 in‐person visits. Practical implications – The reasons for ongoing failures are examined and solutions that can help improve both face‐to‐face and virtual reference are identified. Education and training of reference staff can be improved by recognition of the behavioural causes of dissatisfaction in users. Originality/value – This paper provides empirical data that compare user perceptions of in‐person and virtual reference.
“Public librarians are not interested in collection development issues.”