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So What Do They Ask? Analyzing the Content of Digital Reference Transactions


Most academic libraries have long provided reference service through multiple means. The UC-San Diego Library offers the service in-person, as well as by phone, chat, email, and most recently, text. One year after implementing text reference, use of it was evaluated to determine if it should be continued. The content of questions asked by email, chat, and text was also analyzed. 

The content of reference questions asked in-person is often understood only anecdotally or by a discipline-specific liaison. Online tools like QuestionPoint facilitate greater understanding of the questions users ask by storing transcripts of these transactions. Nonetheless, some institutions may not have time to review transcripts even for accuracy and completion, let alone for a holistic view of user inquiries. 

To determine the topics of questions most frequently asked through its digital reference services, the UCSD Library conducted an assessment of the content of digital reference questions. Doing so supported the library’s decision to continue its relatively new text service and also informed the creation of canned responses to frequently asked questions, expansion or clarification of web pages and publications, highlighting of heavily sought information, and other modifications to best address questions users were likely to have.

In the assessment of 1509 total transcripts from the Winter quarter of 2011, 1055 chat, 307 email, and 147 text transcripts were reviewed. This poster will outline characteristics of UCSD’s digital reference services, assessment details, similarities and differences between methods, topics of the most frequently posed questions, and outcomes from the project. 

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