Document Type


Publication Date



Electronic communication technologies continue to change the landscape of reference services. For many users, virtual communication is the preferred means of conversing. Synchronous virtual reference, similar to other synchronous means of communication, is an important method for reaching students and for providing teaching and learning opportunities. Grounded Theory (GT) research provides a method for examining the transcripts of synchronous virtual reference. In this study, the library implemented the instant messaging (IM) application known as Meebo. Using the qualitative software ATLAS.ti, Iowa State University Library researchers uploaded, analyzed, and coded the instant messaging transcripts. From the analysis, a snapshot developed of the library’s central role in educating the university community about research resources. This paper describes ongoing challenges that occur during synchronous virtual reference interviews and staff training needs that cannot be captured by number crunching alone. Synchronous virtual reference can provide essential teaching and learning experiences that complement the educational mission of most research universities.


Published in College and Research Libraries, 72, no. 3 (May 2011): 276–295 by the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Copyright Owner

American Library Association