Document Type


Publication Date

April 2014


Students in distance programs often have no way of visiting the physical reference desk to seek assistance from and engage in a reference interview with a librarian. Lack of access to this crucial research resource presents a major challenge to distance education. Luckily, chat reference services, available through various products and software, are becoming an increasingly common service offered by libraries. This technology allows the students and librarians to work together in real time to achieve the back and forth dialogue required in reference interviews. Unfortunately, the literature on creating and providing a chat reference service does not delve deeply into issues surrounding scheduling of chat coverage. Some libraries create coverage schedules, similar to coverage of a reference desk. Others opt for a more laissez-faire strategy of librarians making themselves available on chat during specified hours and, when chat requests come in, answering them as availability allows. Both of these strategies have benefits and drawbacks that organizations offering or interested in offering chat reference services should consider when establishing a coverage strategy. Using evidence from a mid-sized, regional university's academic library that has recently explored the use of both techniques, this poster will elucidate these benefits and drawbacks, comparing time burden, equity of coverage among librarians and potential impact on chat reference users. Viewers of this poster will be better equipped to consider which strategy best suits the needs of stakeholders at their specific institution.