chapter
Evaluating Virtual Reference from the Users’ Perspective
WithKirsti Nilsen Catherine Sheldrick Ross
Pages 28

Since 1991, a group of researchers at the University of Western Ontario has been engaged in a long-term research project, the Library Visit Study, which examines what happens when users ask reference questions in libraries. This empirical study takes a user-centered, rather than a system-or staff-centered perspective, in order to examine user perceptions of their experiences with the reference transaction. In the first two phases of the Library Visit Study, we examined the reference transaction as it occurs face-to-face in the physical space of a public or academic library. Findings have been published in a number of articles1 and a book entitled Conducting the Reference Interview.2 In this previous work, we identified some commonly occurring problems in the face-to-face reference transaction and suggest some remedies. In the present paper, we report on some initial findings from phase 3 of the Library Visit Study, in which we focus on users’ perceptions of the interview transaction in the virtual environment. In this latest phase, we are interested in identifying the key factors in the virtual reference transaction that make a difference to users and to their evaluation of the success of the transaction. We are especially interested in the role of technology and the changes that may have been introduced when the users’ contacts with the library reference services are mediated through e-mail or chat services.