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Email Reference Transactions Reveal Unique Patterns about End-User Information Seeking Behaviour and Librarians’ Responses in Academic and Public Libraries Outside the U.S. and Canada. A Review of: Olszewski, L., & Rumbaugh, P. (2010). An international comparison of virtual reference services. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(4), 360-368.

Keywords: QuestionPoint , virtual reference , academic libraries , public libraries

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Abstract:

Objective – To investigate and compare the nature of e-mail reference services in academic and public libraries outside the United States. Design – Longitudinal comparative study. Setting – A total of 23 academic and public libraries in ten countries: Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Subjects – The authors collected reference questions that were e-mailed to the 23 libraries for the weeks of April 3, 2006 and April 7, 2008. Questions were sent from the libraries’ websites to QuestionPoint, a collaborative, online reference service that was used to answer the questions received. Methods – The authors randomly selected 25 questions for each library for the weeks under investigation. If a library did not receive 25 email reference questions that week, then they collected transactions from subsequent weeks until the quota was met or until the end of the month. The authors examined transactions from a total of 919 questions – 515 questions in 2006 and 476 in 2008. All identifying information about the user was stripped from each transaction collected. Each transaction was labeled according to the following categories: Type of institution, i.e., whether the question was sent to an academic or public library Language of the question Question type, i.e., whether the question was about library policy or access to electronic resources (labeled “access” questions), about library holdings (labeled “bibliographic” questions), or about finding specific information on a topic (labeled “subject” questions) Answer type, i.e., whether the response consisted of: a confirmation, clarification, fact, instructions, referral to a pathfinder/bibliography, referral to another library/person/place, or no answer. User status, i.e., whether the person asking the question was an undergrad, a graduate student, or a staff/faculty member Subject classification of the questions using the Dewey Decimal Classification system Response time Main Results – The e-mail transactions that were examined revealed a wide range of end-user and librarian behaviors. English, followed by Dutch, German, and French, were the languages most frequently used by library users. Countries also varied in terms of the types of questions received. For example, more than 75% of the email queries in Belgium (which only had academic libraries participate in this study) were “access” questions, while Mexico (which also consisted of all academic libraries) only received 6% “access” questions, France (all public libraries) had r

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