An International Comparison of Virtual Reference Services

Lawrence Olszewski, Paula Rumbaugh


In an attempt to determine and compare the nature of virtual reference services in both academic and public libraries outside the United States, we analyzed data compiled from webform transactions e-mailed to and from libraries via the Question-Point virtual reference service. The study reviewed transactions that were handled during a typical week in April 2006 and in April 2008 by twenty-three libraries in ten countries: Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. We analyzed transactions by language, type of institution (public or academic), question type (access, bibliographic, or subject), answer type, subject, and response time, with attention to how these characteristics had changed in two years. The results of the study provide insight into how students and the general public use virtual reference services in various countries and how service efficiency differs among countries and library types.

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