In Uncategorized
  1. Definition
  2. Principles of Immediacy and Reference Communication
  3. Resources:
  4. Sources




Oxford English Dictionary defines immediacy as “the quality or condition of being immediate; freedom from intermediate or intervening agency; direct relation or connexion; directness.” In terms of reference librarianship, immediacy refers to the ability of the librarian to bring the user into direct involvement with something that in turn leads to a sense of user satisfaction with reference experience(s). Generally, immediacy accomplishes this through verbal and non-verbal communication techniques; where the reference librarian’s rapport during the reference transaction may have a considerable affect on the library user’s ability to negotiate the reference question, which ultimately leads to a user’s sense of satisfaction of the overall reference experience of the query. Though it is not directly presented in this article, immediacy may also contextually refer to the immediate nature that online and digital resources afford to information seekers in digital environments.


Principles of Immediacy and Reference Communication


In 1976, Helen Gothberg published a study on the effect of reference librarian’s immediate and non-immediate verbal-nonverbal communication practices which attempted to reveal greater evidence about user satisfaction in the reference interview. Gothberg’s study revealed what Ellis Mount (1966) had anticipated a decade earlier: there is a direct correlation between immediate communication and user satisfaction. Many scholars of reference transactions have looked to communication theory for some guidance on aspects of immediate communication in face-to-face interactions. Much of communications theory’s conception of immediate communication has been informed by Albert Mehrabian’s (1966, 1971) immediacy principle which emphasizes that "people are drawn toward persons and things they like, they evaluate highly, and prefer; they avoid or move away from things they dislike, evaluate negatively, or do not prefer" (Mehrabian, 1971, p.1). Or more simply put: immediacy occurs in situations where people feel comfortable. Clearly, communication is a crucial aspect of the reference process, and verbal and nonverbal communication practices in the reference interview should be seriously considered to enable and exercise effective immediate communication. As Gothberg’s study revealed the “reference librarian who displays immediate verbal and non-verbal communication skills will engender in a user better feelings about himself and his experiences in the library” (Gothberg, 1976, p. 129).



The seminal research of Marie L. Radford (1989, 1993, 1996, 1999) speaks to the fact that though reference education has generally focused on the transfer of information to the user, the effects of interpersonal communication with the user, particularly with regards to the immediacy of relational messages, should be seriously considered when thinking about the reference transaction.





Hutchins, M. (1944). Introduction to reference work. Chicago: American Library Association.


Jennerich, E.J., & Jennerich, E.Z. (1987). The reference interview as a creative art. Littleton: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.


Penland, P.R. (1971). Communication for librarians. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.




Budd, J.M. (1992). The library and its users: The communication process. New York: Greenwood Press.


Glogoff, S. (1983). Communication theory’s role in the reference interview. Drexel Library Quarterly, 19, 56-72.


Gothberg, H. (1976). Immediacy: A study of communication effect on the reference process. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 2(3), 126-129.


Jennerich, E.J., & Jennerich, E.Z. (1987). The reference interview as a creative art. Littleton: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.


Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent messages. Belmont: Wadsworth.


Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal communication. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.


Mount, E. (1966). Communication barriers and the reference question. Special Libraries, 57, 575-578.


Oxford English Dictionary. (n.d.) Retrieved November 21, 2006, from


Radford, M.L. (1996). Communication theory applied to the reference encounter: An analysis of critical incidents. The Library Quarterly, 66(2), 123-137.


Radford, M.L. (1998). Approach or avoidance? The role of nonverbal communication in the academic library user’s decision to initiate a reference encounter. Library Trends, 699(19).

Amelia Acker