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The Role of Virtual Reference in Library Web Site Design: A Qualitative Source for Usage Data

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Journal of Web Librarianship Volume 5, Number 2, ISSN 1932-2909


Gathering qualitative information about usage behavior of library Web sites is a time-consuming process requiring the active participation of patron communities. Libraries that collect virtual reference transcripts, however, hold valuable data regarding how the library Web site is used that could benefit Web designers. An analysis of virtual reference transcripts played a key role during the 2010 Mississippi State University Libraries' Web site redesign process. The virtual reference project manager partnered with the Web services department to examine chat and e-mail transcripts as a potential source of qualitative Web site usability information. To determine the usefulness of the virtual reference data, chat transcripts were analyzed using a grounded theory model to derive codes for each question asked and each answer given. This information was then aggregated into concepts that offered insights into user behavior online. In an attempt to extract more usage information from the virtual reference data, the Web services department used Wordle to create word frequency charts for e-mail and chat entry questions from September 2008 through May 2010. These data not only offered insights into patterns of user behavior for the Web redesign, but also for the work of the reference department and service providers across the library. (Contains 7 figures.)


Powers, A.C., Shedd, J. & Hill, C. (2011). The Role of Virtual Reference in Library Web Site Design: A Qualitative Source for Usage Data. Journal of Web Librarianship, 5(2), 96-113. Retrieved July 19, 2019 from .

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