Social Q&As or Library Virtual Reference Service: What is Behind the Choices of Chinese Information Seekers?

Abstract

Despite the increasing popularity of Social Questions and Answers (SQA) sites among Chinese information seekers, there has been little previous exploration of this specific topic as it relates to library reference services. This study seeks an understanding of users’ choices in using SQA sites and library virtual reference (VR) service in meeting their information needs. It also aims to address some gaps in user evaluation and in the comparison of SQA and VR in previous research among information seekers in general, and among Chinese information seekers in particular. The study involved users of the largest Chinese SQA site, Baidu Knows. The results indicate that while SQA outperforms VR in most aspects - as evaluated by Chinese information seekers - VR stands out in two key areas of a virtual information service: quality and trust. Overall, while both SQA and VR have been utilized for various purposes and queries, each has been used more specifically for certain types of questions, and users choose between the two based on the information needs they have at hand. Finally, there is a discussion of the implications of the findings pertaining to libraries and reference services.

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Libri investigates the functions of libraries and information services from both a historical and present-day perspective and analyses the role of information in cultural, organizational, national and international developments.

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