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Digital reference is a library question and answering service available via the Internet. Digital reference services provide information seekers access to a variety of resources and services to better facilitate information seekers in meeting their needs. In many services librarians interact with users synchronously using chat communication technologies, which incorporate co-browsing/escorting, and Web page pushing features. These collaborative features enable participants to see each other's desktops and engage in more personalized and interactive information seeking activities. User-librarian interactions are captured by computer server logs, stored, and retrieved as digital transcripts. Currently, there is little research on how information seekers benefit from collaborative digital reference encounters. To fill this gap, this dissertation aims to better understand information seekers participating in collaborative digital reference activities such as cobrowsing/ escorting and Web page pushing as reflected in the transcripts. This is a case study designed to explore and understand information seekers interacting in a digital reference environment. The research assesses transactional and narrative data involving digital reference users affiliated with a large university library in the United States. The study was conducted in four phases. Phase I consisted of document analysis, including a review of the host library's Web site and related documents pertaining to the chat digital reference service. Phase II consisted of chat transcript collection, isolation, and preparation of the study sample. Phase III consisted of pilot testing and final analysis of chat digital reference transcripts. Phase IV of the study consisted of standardized opened-ended interviews of users who participated in co-browsing/escorting related activities during their chat digital reference encounter. This study is significant because transcripts can be reused to unobtrusively assess digital reference transactions in order to gain knowledge about users and their service needs. It is possible that transactional and narrative data might be used to derive a cognitive model of digital reference users. Knowledge gained can be used to better inform the digital reference service providers, which may enable them to design a more user-oriented digital reference service.
Information Retrieval, Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Collaborative Tools, Collaborative Cooperative Work, Digital Reference, CMC, Computer-Mediated Communication, Virtual Reference
Date of Defense
September 8, 2006.
Dissertation submitted to the College of Information in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Gary Burnett, Professor Directing Dissertation; Rodney Roberts, Outside Committee Member; Thomas Hart, Committee Member; Corinne Jorgensen, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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