Social reference: Toward a unifying theory

Shachaf, Pnina Social reference: Toward a unifying theory. Library and Information Science Research, 2010, vol. 32, pp. 66-76. [Journal article (Paginated)]

Text (Social Reference: Toward a Unifying Theory)
Social Reference- Toward A Unifying Theory.pdf - Submitted version

Download (254kB) | Preview

English abstract

This article addresses the need for a theoretical approach to reference research and specifically concentrates on a lacuna in conceptual research on social reference. Social reference refers to online question answering services that are provided by communities of volunteers on question and answer (Q&A) sites. Social reference is similar to library reference, but at the same time, it differs significantly from the traditional (and digital) dyadic reference encounter; it involves a collaborative group effort and uses wikis and other Web 2.0 infrastructure. This article proposes a sociotechnical framework to analyze, evaluate, and understand social reference that relies on a systems approach to the reference encounter, combined with an input-process-output (IPO) approach to virtual group work. The framework also accounts for the collaborative process of question answering and the interplay between technology and users, in their contexts.

Item type: Journal article (Paginated)
Keywords: social reference, virtual reference, digital reference, social question answering, collaborative question answering, virtual teams
Subjects: A. Theoretical and general aspects of libraries and information. > AA. Library and information science as a field.
A. Theoretical and general aspects of libraries and information. > AB. Information theory and library theory.
B. Information use and sociology of information > BA. Use and impact of information.
B. Information use and sociology of information > BC. Information in society.
B. Information use and sociology of information > BG. Information dissemination and diffusion.
Depositing user: Amanda Ferrara
Date deposited: 21 Oct 2013 01:55
Last modified: 02 Oct 2014 12:28


Abels, E.G. (1996). The e-mail reference interview. Reference Quarterly, 35, 345-358.

Adamic, L.A., Zhang, J., Bakshy, E., & Ackerman, M.S. (2008). Knowledge sharing and Yahoo! Answers: Everyone knows something. Proceedings of the International World Wide Web Conference. Beijing, ACM.

Agichtein, E., Castillo, C., Donato, D., Gionides, A., & Mishne, G. (2008). Finding high-quality content in social media. Proceedings of Web Search and Web Data Mining. Palo Alto, CA, ACM.

Answerbag (2009). About us. Retrieved July 5, 2009, from

Bertalanffy, L. (1968). General system theory: Foundations, developments, applications. New York:


Bettenhausen, K.L. (1991). Five years of group research: What we have learned and what need to be addressed. Journal of Management, 17, 345-381.

Bian, J., Liu, Y., Agichtein, E., & Zha, H. (2008). Finding the right facts in the crowd: factoid question answering over social media. Proceedings of the International World Wide Web Conference. Beijing, ACM. (pp. 467-476).

Burnett, G., Besant, M., & Chatman, E. A. (2001). Small worlds: Normative behavior in virtual communities and feminist bookselling. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 52, 536−547.

Burnett, G., & Bonnici, L. (2003). Beyond the FAQ: Explicit and implicit norms in Usenet newsgroups. Library & Information Science Research, 25, 333-351.

Burnett, G., & Buerkle, H. (2004). Information exchange in virtual communities: A comparative study. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 9(2). Retrieved July 5, 2009, from

Burnett, G., Jaeger, P.T., & Thompson K.M. (2008). Normative behavior and information: The social aspects of information access. Library & Information Science Research, 30, 56-66.

Chatman, E. A. (1999). A theory of life in the round. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 207−217.

Cohen, S.G., & Bailey, D.E. (1997). What makes teams work: Group effectiveness research from the shop floor to the executive suite. Journal of Management, 23(3), 239-291.

Cohen, S.G., Ledford, G.E. Jr., & Spreitzer, G.M. (1996). A predictive model of self- managing work teams effectiveness. Human Relations, 49, 643-676.

Crews, K.D. (1988). The accuracy of reference services: Variables for research and implementation. Library & Information Science Research, 10, 331-355.

Curry, E.L. (2005). The reference interview revisited: Librarian-patron interaction in the virtual environment. SIMILE: Studies in Media and Information Literacy Education, 5(1), 1-16.

DeSanctis G., & Poole, M.S. (1994). Capturing the complexity in advanced technology use: Adaptive structuration theory. Organization Science, 5(2), 121-147.

DeSanctis, G., & Poole, M.S. (1997). Transition in teamwork in new organizational forms. Advances in Group Processes, 14, 157-176.

Dewdey, P., & Ross, C.S. (1994). Flying a light aircraft: Reference service evaluation from a user’s viewpoint. Reference Quarterly, 34, 217-230.

Dom, B., & Paranjpe, D. (2008). A Bayesian technique for estimating the credibility of question answerers. Proceedings of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). pp. 399-409. Retrieved August 20, 2008, from

Durrance, J.C. (1995). Factors that influence reference success: What makes questioners willing to return? Reference Librarian, 49/50, 243-65.

Furst, S., Blackburn, R., & Rosen, B. (1999). Virtual team effectiveness: A proposed research agenda. Information Systems Journal, 9(4), 249-269.

Gazan, R. (2006, November). Specialists and synthesists in a question answering community. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science & Technology Annual Meeting, 43(1), 1-10.

Gazan, R. (2007). Seekers, sloths and social reference: Homework questions submitted to a question-answering community. New Review of Hypermedia & Multimedia, 13(2), 239-248.

Gibson, C.B., & Cohen, S.G. (Eds.). (2003). Virtual teams that work: Creating conditions for virtual team effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gilbert, L.M., Liu, M., Matoush, T., & Whitlatch, J.B. (2006). Digital reference and online instructional services in an integrated public/university library. The Reference Librarian, 46(95-96), 149-172.

Gross, M., & Saxton, M. L. (2002). Integrating the imposed query into the evaluation of reference service: A dichotomous analysis of user ratings. Library & Information Science Research, 24, 251-263.

Guzzo, R.A., & Dickson, M.W. (1996). Teams in organizations: Recent research on performance and effectiveness. Annual Review of Psychology, 47(1), 307-338.

Hackman, J.R. (1983). A normative model of work team effectiveness (Technical Report No. 2). New Haven, CT: Yale School of Organization and Management.

Hackman, J.R. (1987). The design of work teams. In J. Lorsch (Ed.), Handbook of organizational behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hackman, J.R., & Oldham, G.R. (1980). Work redesign. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Hansen, D. L., Ackerman, M. S., Resnick, P. J., & Munson, S. (2007). Virtual community maintenance with a collaborative repository. Proceedings of the 70th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 44 (1), 1-20.

Harper, F.M., Raban, D., Rafaeli, S., & Konstan, J.A. (2008). Predictors of answer quality in online Q&A sites. Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Florence, ACM.

Hernon, P., & Calvert, P. (2005). E-service quality in libraries: Exploring its features and dimensions. Library & Information Science Research, 27, 377-404.

Hernon, P., & McClure, C.R. (1986). Unobtrusive reference testing: The 55 percent rule. Library Journal, 111(7), 37-41.

Hitwise (2008, March 19). U.S. visits to question and answer websites increased 118 percent year-over-year. Retrieved November 22, 2008, from

Jarvenpaa, S.L. , & Leidner, D.E. (1999). Communication and trust in global virtual teams. Organization Science, 10(6), 791–815.

Kayworth, T.R., & Leidner, D.E. (2001). Leadership effectiveness in global virtual teams. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18(3), 7–40.

Kling, R., McKim, J., & King, A. (2003). A bit more to IT: Scholarly communication forums as socio-technical interaction networks. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55(2), 127-148.

Kulthlu, C.C. (1988). Developing a model of the library search process: Cognitive and affective aspects. Reference Quarterly, 28, 231-242.

Kwon, N. (2006). User satisfaction with referrals at a collaborative virtual reference service. Information Research, 11(2). Retrieved January 15, 2009, from

Lankes, R.D. (2004). The digital reference research agenda. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55(4), 301-311.

Lankes, R.D. (2005). Digital reference research: Fusing research and practice. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 44(4), 320-326.

Lurey, J.M., & Raisinghani, M.S. (2001). An empirical study of best practices in virtual teams. Information & Management, 38, 523-544.

Mathieu, J., Maynard, M.T., Rapp, T., & Gilson, L. (2008). Team effectiveness 1997-2007: A review of recent advancements and a glimpse into the future. Journal of Management, 34(3), 410-476.

McClennen, M., & Memmott, P. (2001). Roles in digital reference. Information Technology and Libraries, 20(3), 143-148.

McClure, C.R., Lankes, R.D., Gross, M., & Choltco-Devlin, B. (2002). Statistics, measures and quality standards for assessing digital reference library services: Guidelines and procedures. Syracuse, NY: Information Institute of Syracuse. Retrieved December 27, 2008, from:

McGrath, J.E. (1984). Groups: Interaction and performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

McGrath, J.E. (1964). Social psychology: A brief introduction. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Montoya-Weiss, M.M., Massey, A.P., & Song, M. (2001). Getting it together: Temporal coordination and conflict management in global virtual teams. Academy of Management Journal, 44(6),1251–1262.

Nicholson, S., & Lankes, R.D. (2007). The Digital Reference Electronic Warehouse (DREW) Project: Creating the infrastructure for digital reference research through a multi-disciplinary knowledge base. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 46 (3), 45-59.

Oh, S., Oh, J.S., & Shah, C. (2008). The use of information sources by Internet users in answering questions. Proceedings of the Annual meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 45(1), 1-13.

O’Neill, N. (2007). Chacha, Yahoo!, and Amazon. Searcher, 15(4), 7-11.

O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0. Retrieved January 9, 2009, from

Orlikowski, W.J. (1992). The duality of technology: Rethinking the concept of technology in organizations. Organization Science, 3, 398-427.

Pearce, J.A.I., & Ravlin, E.C. (1987). The design and activation of self-regulating work groups. Human Relations, 40, 751-760.

Pettigrew, KE. (1999). Waiting for chiropody: Contextual results from an ethnographic study of the information behaviour among attendees at community clinics. Information Processing & Management, 35(6), 801-817.

Pomerantz, J. (2005). A conceptual framework and open research questions for chat-based reference service. Journal of the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 56(12), 1288-1302.

Pomerantz, J. (2006). Collaboration as the norm in reference work. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 46(1), 45-55.

Pomerantz, J., Nicholson, S., Belanger, Y., & Lankes, R.D. (2004). The current state of digital reference: Validation of a general digital reference model through a survey of digital reference services. Information Processing & Management, 40(2), 347-363.

Raban, D. & Harper, M. (2008). Motivations for answering questions online. In D. Caspi, D., & T. Azran (Eds.), New media and innovative technologies. Beer Sheva, Israel: Ben-Gurion University Press, Tzivonim Publications. pp.73-97. Retrieved July 5, 2009 from

Radford, M.L. (1999). The reference encounter: Interpersonal communication in the academic library. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Radford, M.L. (2006). Encountering virtual users: A qualitative investigation of interpersonal communication in chat reference. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(8), 1046-1059.

Rafaeli, S., & Ariel, Y. (2008). Online motivational factors: Incentives for participation and contribution in Wikipedia. In A. Barak (Ed.), Psychological aspects of cyberspace: Theory, research, applications (pp. 243-267). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ranganathan, S.R. (1931). The five laws of library science. London: Edward Goldston.

Reference and User Services Association (2004). Guidelines for behavioral performance of reference and information service providers. Retrieved December 5, 2008 from

Rheingold, H. (2000). The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Richardson, J.V. (1995). Knowledge-based systems for general reference work: Applications, problems, and progress. San Diego: Academic Press.

Richardson, J.V. (1999). Understanding the reference transaction: A systems analysis perspective. College & Research Libraries, 60(3), 211-222.

Ross, C.D., Nilsen, K., & Dewdney, P. (2002). Conducting the reference interview. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Rothstein, S. (1964). The measurement and evaluation of reference service. Library Trends, 12(3), 456-472

Rousseau, V., Aube, C., & Savoie, A. (2006). Teamwork behaviors: A review and an integration of frameworks. Small Group Research, 37, 540-570.

Savolainen, R. (2009). Small world and information grounds as contexts of information seeking and sharing. Library & Information Science Research, 31, 38-45.

Saxton, M.L., & Richardson, J.V. (2002). Understanding reference transactions: Transforming an art into a science. San Diego: Academic Press.

Shachaf, P. (2008). Cultural diversity and information and communication technology impacts on global virtual teams: An exploratory study. Information and Management, 45(2), 131-142.

Shachaf, P. (in press). The paradox of expertise: Is the Wikipedia Reference Desk as good as your library? Journal of Documentation, 54. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from

Shachaf, P., & Hara, N. (2002). Ecological approach to virtual team effectiveness. Proceedings of Americas Conference on Information Systems, 8, 1814-1819. AIS.

Shachaf, P., & Horowitz, S. (2006). Are virtual reference services color blind? Library & Information Science Research, 28, 501-520.

Shachaf, P. & Horowitz, S. (2008). Virtual reference service evaluation: Adherence to RUSA behavioral guidelines and IFLA digital reference guidelines. Library & Information Science Research, 30, 122-137.

Shah, C., Oh, J.S., & Oh, S. (2008). Exploring characteristics and effects of user participation in online social Q&A sites. First Monday, 13(9), retrieved September 29, 2008, from

Shea, G.P., & Guzzo R.A. (1987). Groups as human resources. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 5, 323-356.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Books.

Sundstrom, E., DeMuese, K.P., & Futrell D. (1990). Work teams: Applications and effectiveness. The American Psychologist, 45(2), 120-133.

Surowiecki, J. (2004). The wisdom of crowds. New York: Anchor Books.

Taylor, R.S. (1968). Question negotiation and information seeking in libraries. College and Research Libraries, 29(6), 178-194.

Walter, V.A., & Mediavilla, C. (2005). Teens are from Neptune, librarians are from Pluto: An analysis of online reference transactions. Library Trends, 54(2), 209-227.

Ward, D. (2004). Measuring the completeness of reference transactions in online chats; Results of an unobtrusive study. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 44(1), 46- 58.

Ward, D. (2005). Why users choose chat? A survey of behavior and motivations. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 10(1), 29-46.

Weinberger, D. (2007). Everything is miscellaneous: The power of the new digital disorder. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

Whittaker, K. (1977). Towards a theory for reference and information service. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 9(1), 49-63.

White, M.D. (1981). Dimensions of the reference interview. Reference Quarterly, 20(4), 373-381.

White, M.D. (1985). Evaluation of the reference interview. Reference Quarterly, 25(1), 76-84.

White, M.D. (1989). Different approaches to the reference interview. The Reference Librarian, 25, 631-646.

White, M.D. (2001). Digital reference services: Framework for analysis and evaluation. Library & Information Science Research, 23, 211-231.

Zhang, J., Ackerman, M.S., Adamic, L., & Nam, K.K. (2007). QuME: A mechanism to support expertise finding in online help-seeking communities. Proceedings of the 20th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. Newport, RI, ACM.

Zhuo F., Love, M., Norwood, S., & Massia, K. (2006). Applying RUSA guidelines in the analysis of chat reference transcripts. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 13(1), 75-88.


Downloads per month over past year

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item