Reports, requests, and recipient design: The management of patron queries in online reference chats
Epperson, Terrence W.
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The related fields of ethnomethodology (EM), founded by Harold Garfinkel, and conversation analysis (CA), as epitomized by the work of Harvey Sacks, offer unique insights into the operation of virtual reference services (VRS). The tradition of phenomenology within library and information science (LIS) provides a context for this research, although EM/CA differs in important respects, providing a program for grounded empirical investigations. Relevant EM/CA research concerns include the documentary method of interpretation, trust, indexicality, instructed action, and sequential organization. Review of the LIS literature on reference interactions in both face-to-face and virtual settings reveals a tendency to impose analytic categories and classificatory schemes that obscure the extremely situated and collaborative nature of reference work; however, an EM/CA examination of transcripts from the first 4 months of a newly implemented VRS at a large university library suggests the need for a more nuanced approach. Close-order examination of two chat reference transcripts reveals the interactional complexities and nuances that characterize even the most succinct encounters. Analyzing the reference query as a service request demonstrates how librarians deploy their interactional skills to address “face” concerns and ameliorate potentially problematic aspects of the reference encounter.
Epperson, T.W., & Zemel, A. (2008). Reports, requests, and recipient design: The management of patron queries in online reference chats. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 59(14), 2268-2283.
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