Purpose – The purpose of this study is to analyze one Instant Messaging (IM) reference service to determine to what extent instruction is or can be offered in this medium and whether patrons want or expect it.
Design/methodology/approach – The authors surveyed IM patrons over a seven week period to determine whether they felt they could and did learn from chat transactions. Transcript content was analyzed to find out whether and how instruction is being offered.
Findings – Results show that patrons overwhelmingly welcome instruction and that it is provided in a large majority of cases, using a variety of bibliographic instruction techniques. The way the question is phrased, however, affects the likelihood of instruction to some extent.
Practical implications – The results of this study indicate that librarians should make a habit of practicing instruction in IM reference even when patrons do not appear to be asking for it.
Originality/value – The relationship between instruction and virtual reference has not been fully explored in the literature. Reference and instruction librarians will benefit from this study's exploration of instruction in the IM medium.