December 1, 2015

Research Paper: A Usability Evaluation of Academic Virtual Reference Services (Preprint)

The following article was recently accepted for publication in the May 2014 issue of C&RL (College and Research Libraries).


A Usability Evaluation of Academic Virtual Reference Services


Anthony S. Chow
Department of Library and Information Studies
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, School of Education

Rebecca A. Croxton
University of North Carolina at Greensboro, School of Education


Accepted for Publication: January 2013
Anticipated Publication Date: May 1, 2014


College and Research Libraries Website


This study examined the usability of five virtual reference services – instant messenger chat, email, telephone, text-messaging, and Skype video conferencing – by having 31 undergraduate and graduate students evaluate the usability of the virtual reference services of two different universities. The study’s results suggest that user preference and satisfaction for virtual reference service are highly correlated with the service’s overall usability in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. Online chat was rated highest across all measures including satisfaction and seven different usability factors. Major implications of the study suggest that online chat is the virtual reference of choice for university students and that usability metrics are a good predictor of user preferences centered on high return on investment, speed of transaction, convenience, and minimal effort.

Direct to Full Text Article (29 pages; PDF; Preprint)

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

Craft Exceptional Digital Experiences for Your Users
Digital UX LJ and ER&L present an exceptional roster of library and user experience (UX) experts for our newest online course, Digital UX Workshop: Crafting Exceptional Digital Experiences for the User-Centered Library. During this 5-week online workshop, you will explore why UX matters, and how to sell user-centered design (UCD) to leadership within your organization. Whether you want to redesign your website, revamp your user interface, create a new discovery tool, implement e-resources, or develop a mobile app—you’ll have a tangible product by the end of the course.