“Are You a Computer?” Opening Exchanges in Virtual Reference Shape the Potential for Teaching

Paula R. Dempsey

Abstract

Academic reference librarians frequently work with students who are not aware of their professional roles. In online interactions, a student might not even realize that the librarian is a person. The ways students initiate conversations reveal their understanding of the mutual roles involved in reference encounters. Conversation analysis of live chat transcripts at two institutions establishes the importance of opening exchanges to shape the potential for teaching. Chats that students open with relational cues (greeting, introduction, courtesy, verbal softeners) last longer than chats without these cues. Longer chats include more expressions of enthusiastic gratitude. The transcripts show evidence of successful strategies by librarians to shift chats from transactional openings to conversations with potential for engaged learning.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula R. Dempsey, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/) CC BY-NC-SA.


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