Preference for Reference: New Options and Choices for Academic Library Users
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This exploratory study investigated the help - seeking preferences of library users at two large urban universities in Toronto. Reference desk and virtual reference users were compared in terms of their perceptions of the options now available for obtaining reference help. The premise for the study was based on the assumption that a reasonable exposure to newer reference services, such as chat and email had occurred, therefore allowing for an examination of emerging preferences for different types of services. Surveys were distributed to both reference desk and virtual reference users asking seven core questions exploring use and preference for reference services as well as habits and preferences for study location (in library, off campus, etc.). The results suggest that the reference desk continues to be the most popular method of getting help in the library, but virtual reference satisfies a niche for users who prefer to work outside the library. Those who use virtual reference tend to perceive their options for getting help differently from other users. Virtual reference users do not perceive virtual reference as a novelty or as a marginal service, but see it as a signifcant service option. In addition, the results show that virtual reference services may have a special appeal to graduate students since graduate students seem more likely to conduct their research outside the library. The study concludes with recommendations for planning and for future research.