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Reference Research Review: 2011

Reference Research Review: 2011

An annual bibliography highlighting selected works in the reference literature.

Items selected and annotated by members of the American Library Association, RUSA/RSS Research & Statistics Committee (2011-2012).


Arendt, J., & Graves, S. J. (2011). Virtual question changes: Reference in evolving environments. Reference Services Review, 39(2), 187-205. doi:10.1108/00907321111135448

Librarians at a university extracted transcripts from their synchronous virtual reference (SVR) service from a six-year period for coding and analysis. They found increases in all types of questions submitted virtually, but the rates of change for each type fluctuated dramatically from one year to the next. There was some evidence that the increases in certain question types coincided with system changes (e.g. the adoption of Meebo) and the embedding of widgets (e.g. into the SFX link resolver). The findings have implications for libraries using SVR platforms in terms of service configurations, training, and staffing.

Bickley, R., & Corrall, S. (2011). Student perceptions of staff in the information commons: A survey at the University of Sheffield. Reference Services Review, 39(2), 223-243.

To ascertain how students perceive staff in a technology-rich information commons (IC), all university students received a link to a questionnaire on that topic. Responses from a 1% return rate indicated that most students viewed staff who helped them in the IC favorably, but they could not distinguish between librarians and other staff and did not understand the academic role of librarians. The authors recommend building stronger partnerships with faculty and assuming more prominent presences in online courses – a response that reinforces recommendations from previous research.

Bravender, P., Lyon, C., & Molaro, A. (2011). Should chat reference be staffed by librarians? An assessment of chat reference at an academic library using LibStats. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 16(3), 111-127. doi:10.1080/10875301.2011.595255

The authors examined the benefit to patron services of having chat reference staffed by reference librarians. The authors analyzed the number and difficulty of the questions and determined the cost per chat question based on average librarian salaries and hours of chat service offered. Results showed that it was not cost effective to have reference librarians monitoring the chat reference service. This study can be helpful to libraries examining their staffing models and patron services.

Collard, S., & Whatley, C. (2011). Virtual reference/query log pairs: A window onto user need. Reference Services Review, 39(1), 151-166. doi:10.1108/00907321111108178

The authors took advantage of the OVID system’s capability of providing search histories with virtual help requests via its query logs. By analyzing 90 queries paired with their search transcripts, the authors discovered that 76% of queries related to problems with searches. Another significant finding was that users cross-searching multiple databases persisted longer in trying searches before asking for help. The study provides a more complete picture of online searching behavior and its links to question-asking.

Connaway, L. S., Dickey, T. J., & Radford, M. L. (2011). ''If it is too inconvenient I'm not going after it:'' Convenience as a critical factor in information-seeking behaviors. Library and Information Science Research, 33(3), 179-190. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2010.12.002

Connaway, Dickey, and Radford look at the importance of convenience in users’ information seeking behavior by exploring data from two different IMLS-funded studies. They re-examine the two surveys, focusing on the how the data describes users’ concept of convenience, ease of access and use, and time as playing a role in finding information. Survey questions are included. Implications for practice include changing the library environment, providing more digital resources and virtual research environments. 

Cowdery, J. E., Kindred, J., Michalakis, A., & Suggs, L. S. (2011). Promoting health in a virtual world: Impressions of health communication messages delivered in Second Life. First Monday, 16(9). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/

This study explores impressions of the impact of health messages delivered via the online virtual world of Second Life. Using quantitative analysis and a grounded theory methodology, researchers analyzed survey data and focus group interviews and determined that overall, participants were receptive to receiving health information in a virtual world setting. The study illustrates how virtual worlds can be used to successfully communicate information.

Devine, C., Paladino, E. B., & Davis, J. A. (2011). Chat reference training after one decade: The results of a national survey of academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(3), 197-206.

The purpose of this study was to examine the state of training of library staff for chat reference.  A survey was administered to 450 librarians responsible for chat reference services; questions focused on how or whether there was a formal training program for chat reference.  Results indicate that a vast range of “training” was being done in academic libraries.  The authors’ suggestions for their findings are pertinent to librarians involved with chat reference services.

Fry, A., & Rich, L. (2011). Usability testing for e-resource discovery: How students find and choose e-resources using library web sites. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(5), 386-401.

The authors explore how students access electronic indexes with the goal of improving their library website’s access to these resources.  The authors conducted a usability study with fifteen students.  Results show that students use the databases they know, whether or not they are appropriate, and that subject lists of databases are rarely used by students.  Any librarian interested in the presentation of article indexes and databases on library websites will benefit from reading this article.

Head, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. B. (2011). How college students use the Web to conduct everyday life research. First Monday, 16(4). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/

Head and Eisenberg investigated the personal information needs of college students and what information sources and practices they use to satisfy these needs. After examining 8,353 responses from a survey of 25 U.S. college campuses, the authors concluded that students use hybrid processes to find information, that they do not use search engines for all kinds of searches, and that they struggle to select relevant results. This study challenges some conventional beliefs about information seeking behavior.

Holman, L. (2011). Millennial students’ mental model of search: Implications for academic librarians and database developers. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(1), 19-27.

This study focuses on analyzing millennial students’ models of searching for librarians and database developers working with students to help them search most effectively.  Methodologies included narrated observation of students doing database searches and concept-mapping by the students participating in the study.  Results show that students use very simple searching models, rarely varying their searches from database to database.  The results should be useful to reference librarians working with students as they search for research materials.

Ismail, L. (2011). Getting personal: Reaching out to adult learners through a course management system. The Reference Librarian, 52(3), 244-262. doi:10.1080/02763877.2011.556993

This study examines whether adult learners favor library help delivered through a Course Management System (CMS). The authors surveyed students regarding their satisfaction with a CMS-embedded personal librarian service and concluded that adult learners value point-of-need service, but would prefer seeking help via email, not a CMS. The survey instrument is included. A useful study for libraries providing reference through a CMS.

Kim, Y.-M. (2011). Users' perceptions of university library websites: A unifying view. Library & Information Science Research, 33(1), 63-72. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2010.04.007

Kim developed a questionnaire to provide insight into how faculty and students use university library website resources. He approached the project from three perspectives: the user perspective, the website design perspective, and the library service quality perspective. The questionnaire is included as an appendix. His conclusion includes the need for librarians to enhance active listening skills in order to better understand undergraduate’s information needs, as well as the need to design user-friendly websites.

Luo, L., & Weak, E. (2011). Texting 4 answers: What questions do people ask?. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 51(2), 133-142. Retrieved from http://rusa.metapress.com/home/main.mpx

This study seeks to provide empirical evidence about how users use text reference service, especially what kinds of questions they ask, to further the professional understanding of this emerging reference service venue and how to best deliver text reference service via this venue.

Mu, X., Dimitroff, A., Jordan, J., & Burclaff, N. (2011). A survey and empirical study of virtual reference service in academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(2), 120-129.

The authors explore accessibility and user attitudes to virtual reference services (VRS).  Part 1 examined how VRS appear on academic library websites;  part 2 compared VRS interfaces using interviews.  Results indicate that use of VRS might be increased by better placement and sizing of VRS links, and that images with text provide the most accessible links to VRS.  Librarians involved with VRS will find this study useful in presenting VRS on their library’s websites.

Passonneau, S., and Coffey, D. (2011).  The role of synchronous virtual reference in teaching and learning: A grounded theory analysis of instant messaging transcripts. College & Research Libraries, 72(3), 276-295.

The purpose of the article is to assess the content and service quality of synchronous virtual reference service.  Grounded theory is used to develop a schema to assess chat transcripts.  Analysis of coding yielded three categories, two of which, “synchronous learning” and “service challenge,” are discussed in the paper.  Best practice recommendations for synchronous virtual reference emerge as a result of this analysis.

Radford, M. L., Radford G. P., Connaway, L. S., &  DeAngelis, J. A. (2011). On virtual face-work: An ethnography of communication approach to a live chat reference interaction. The Library Quarterly, 81(4), 431-453. doi:10.1086/661654

The purpose of this article is to describe an ethnographic analysis of a virtual reference interaction transcript using the theoretical framework of Erving Goffman’s “face-work.”   No instrument was implemented in the qualitative analysis examining the role of each word or phrase in the transcript in order to understand the role of each in the transaction. Results show that participants both create and maintain face throughout the transaction.  Relevant to those providing computer-mediated reference services.

Rozaklis, L., & MacDonald, C. M. (2011). A typology of collaborative communication in a digital reference environment. The Reference Librarian, 52(4), 308-319. doi:10.1080/02763877.2011.586907

Reviewing 574 reference transactions from the ipl2’s Ask an ipl2 Librarian service, the authors investigated collaboration in reference transactions involving multiple librarians. To create a typology, researchers coded all instances of collaborative communication and used the constant comparative method for qualitative analysis. From the data, researchers identified four types of collaborative communication: content, service, technology, and community. The coding scheme is not included. This exploratory study provides a closer look at collaboration in transaction-level reference data.

Shah, C. (2011). Measuring effectiveness and user satisfaction in Yahoo! Answers. First Monday, 16(2). Retrieved from http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3092/...

To explore effectiveness and user satisfaction in this social Q&A site, researchers collected more than 3 million questions over a period of two years. Looking at how quickly questions were answered and when and in what rank order a satisfactory answer was received, authors concluded that YA provides an effective platform for posting a question and securing a quick answer. This study provides valuable information on a growing information seeking trend.

Ward, D. (2011). Expanding the reference vocabulary: A methodology for applying Bloom’s taxonomy to increase instruction in the reference interview. Reference Services Review, 39(1), 167-180.
doi: 10.1108/00907321111108187

In an analysis of virtual reference chat transcripts from a university library, the investigator assigned 811 questions asked by librarians during the sessions into one of the six levels of Bloom’s original taxonomy of learning. He also coded questions as convergent (closed) or divergent (open). Results showed that the highest percentage of questions matched to Bloom’s “knowledge” category (the lowest level) and the lowest percentage of questions reached Bloom’s highest level of “evaluation.” In both cases, questions tended to be convergent. The discussion places teaching at the reference desk in a new light.

Wray, C. C. (2011). The journey starts here: Finding special education research in subscription databases. The Reference Librarian, 52(3), 231-243. doi:10.1080/02763877.2011.555281

In this article, the authors sought to determine which subject-specific databases offer the most access to core journals in the field multidisciplinary field of special education. Using two checklists (that aren’t included) to systematically identify a list of core journals, the authors found that of four evaluated databases, Academic Search Premier provided the best coverage. Relevant to all reference librarians who provide e-resource recommendations.