The Power of Dots: Using Nonverbal Compensators in Chat Reference

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University Libraries


Academic libraries, Reference services, Chat reference


This paper analyzes the use of nonverbal compensators in librarians' chat reference conversations with college and university students. Comparing the transcripts of conversations with students who rated librarians as “very helpful” and “unhelpful” in a survey following the reference interaction, the data shows that the librarians' frequent use of certain compensators for the purpose of engaging, empathizing, or expressing continued thought is correlated to student satisfaction with the librarian. Specifically, the use of ellipses and dashes to supplant more traditional forms of punctuation, the purpose being to convey thought and interest in the patron's information need, is predictive of positive satisfaction levels. The implications for practitioners and instructors of chat reference include purposeful use of such compensators for specific purposes and the inclusion of computer-mediated-communication (CMC) in contemporary reference education.