Coding into the Great Unknown: Analyzing Instant Messaging Session Transcripts to Identify User Behaviors and Measure Quality of Service

Maximiek, Sarah and Brown, Elizabeth and Rushton, Erin Coding into the Great Unknown: Analyzing Instant Messaging Session Transcripts to Identify User Behaviors and Measure Quality of Service., 2010 [Preprint]


Download (466kB) | Preview

English abstract

After one year of providing virtual reference service through an instant messaging (IM) service, Binghamton University (BU) Libraries, under the purview of its Digital Reference Committee (DRC), undertook a study of collected session transcripts. The goals of this work were to determine who was using the IM service and why; if staffing for the service was adequate and met our in-person reference standards; and if improvements to the Libraries' existing reference services were needed. The findings revealed that 31% of identifiable users were students and 5% of users were campus community members. The analyses also revealed that many used the service for complex questions and not just ready reference, policy, and directional questions as had been expected. The most common question types were website navigation help (29% of all sessions), research assistance (22%), and instructional questions (23%). The American Library Association Reference & User Services Association (RUSA) Guidelines for the behavioral performance of reference and information service providers were used to measure quality of service. The findings reveled that approachability, showing interest, and listening were each demonstrated in over 80% of sessions, indicating these activities can be demonstrated effectively in a virtual environment. The study also found that questions were correctly answered 84% of the time. The study provided valuable insight into how patrons approach and locate information on our website and demonstrated a need for additional training and future discussions of staffing alternatives for the IM service.

Item type: Preprint
Keywords: virtual reference, instant messaging, user behaviors, reference services
Subjects: L. Information technology and library technology > LZ. None of these, but in this section.
I. Information treatment for information services > IJ. Reference work.
Depositing user: null null
Date deposited: 18 Aug 2010
Last modified: 02 Oct 2014 12:17


Arnold, J., and N. Kaske. 2005. Evaluating the quality of a chat service. Portal: Libraries & the Academy 5, (2): 177-93.

Brown, E., S. Maximiek, and E. Rushton. 2006. Connecting to the students: Launching instant messaging reference at Binghamton University. College & Undergraduate Libraries 13, (4): 31-42.

Desai, C. M., and S. J. Graves. 2006. Instruction via instant messaging reference: What's happening. The Electronic Library 4, (2): 174-89.

Hernon, P., and C. R. McClure. 1987. Unobtrusive testing and library reference services. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex.

Katz, W. A. 1992. Introduction to reference work. 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill.

Kipnis, D. G., and G. E. Kaplan. 2008. Analysis and lessons learned instituting an instant messaging reference service at an academic health sciences library: The first year. Medical Reference Services Quarterly 27, (1): 33.

Lee, I. J. 2004. Do virtual reference librarians dream of digital reference questions? A qualitative and quantitative analysis of E-mail and chat reference. Australian Academic and Research Libraries 35, (2): 95.

RUSA RSS Management of Reference Committee. Guidelines for the behavioral performance of reference and information service providers. 2004, June [cited March 18 2009 2009]. Available from

Ryan, J., A. L. Daughtery, and E. C. Mauldin. 2006. Exploring the LSU libraries' virtual reference transcripts: An analysis. Electronic Journal of Academic & Special Librarianship 7, (3): 1.

Sears, J. 2001. Chat reference service: An analysis of one semester's data. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 32, : 200-6.

11. Shachaf, P., and S. M. Horowitz. 2008. Virtual reference service evaluation: Adherence to RUSA behavioral guideline and IFLA digital reference guidelines. Library and Information Science Research 30, (2): 122-37.

Sloan, B. 2005. Re: How to help frustrated searchers. Message posted to the library reference issues electronic mailing list, archived at:.

Van Duinkerken, W., J. Stephens, and K. I. MacDonald. 2009. The chat reference interview: Seeking evidence based on RUSA's guidelines: A case study at Texas A&M University Libraries. New Library World 110, (3/4): 107-21.


Downloads per month over past year

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item