How to Smile When They Can't See Your Face: Rhetorical Listening Strategies for IM and SMS Reference

How to Smile When They Can't See Your Face: Rhetorical Listening Strategies for IM and SMS Reference

Maria Kingsbury (Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, MN, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJDLS.2015010104
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Abstract

This article suggests IM (instant message) and SMS (short message service) reference strategies based on the stance of rhetorical listening in an attempt to create in digital communication environments in which both patrons and reference librarians can utilize similar affordances that they might encounter in a face-to-face interactions, for instance, especially nonverbal communication. Drawing upon research in computer-mediated communication, the social sciences, and library studies, the author suggests four specific strategies for beginning implementation of rhetorical listening into IM and SMS reference: material sensitivity, syntactic mirroring, emoticon use, and professional ethos awareness.
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Background

A 2013 Pew Internet and American Life project report determined that 80% of surveyed Americans consider reference librarians “a very important” library service (Zickuhr, K., Rainie, L., & Purcell, K., 2013, p. 3). This finding about library values seems at odds with research into contemporary information-seeking behavior, which seem to regularly reveal that library patrons “value convenience and efficiency, often aided by technology, as among the most important factors in how they pursue an information need” (Barnhart & Pierce, 2011, p. 4). Search algorithms—Google, for one—unimpeded by the messiness of human interaction and potential miscommunications, might seem a shorter and smoother path than initiating a dialogue with a librarian. Yet, it may be that the very “inefficiency” of the reference interaction, the human connection with its inherent vulnerability and uncertainties, may be the quality that assures that reference librarians continue to be valued by library users.

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