Mitigating Microaggressions in Chat Reference

QuestionPoint recently hosted a one-hour webinar on mitigating microaggressions in chat reference sessions.

  • To view the recording, click "View Webinar Recording" at the bottom of the event page and then click "Playback" (you may be asked to download the Cisco WebEx add-on).

The webinar was presented by Marie Radford (School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University) and Lynn Silipigni Connaway (OCLC). They share findings from their research on microaggressions in chat reference transcripts and share tips for library staff to avoid microaggressions when they're chatting with patrons.

At AskAway, patrons often tell us that they felt heard and supported (rather than judged) during their chats. But, by continually reflecting on the assumptions that we bring to a session and how we communicate these in our chats, we strengthen communication with students and faculty and work with them to meet their information needs.

Defining and identifying microaggressions

The presenters define microaggressions as "intentional or non-intentional verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities towards marginalized groups."

For their research, they reviewed 1000s of public and academic chat transcripts available via QuestionPoint between 2006 and 2016. They note that microaggressions can be difficult to identify as they tend to be subtle and personal.

Of the transcripts reviewed, they found that 97% of transcripts were free of microaggressions and that 3% included microaggressions.

Examples of microaggressions

The researchers identified microaggressions such as assuming a patron's socioeconomic status or making heteronormative or ageist assumptions. The researchers also identified the following types of microaggressions related to library research:

  • Assuming a patron's search independence (e.g. their ability to use a search engine)
  • Calling out a patron (e.g. for making a mistake)
  • Assuming a patron's technical literacy
  • Assuming a patron's information need

How to mitigate microaggressions 

The researchers shared tips for mitigating microaggressions in chat reference:

  • Avoid assuming a patron's identity or ability
  • When unsure, respond with open, respectful questions rather than assumptive statements
  • Avoid library jargon and check-in to ask if they would like you to define any terms
  • Respect their time and check-in with them when doing a longer search (e.g. rather than saying "I have to do a prolonged search" you could ask "This is going to take me a few minutes to search. Is that ok?")
  • Allow the patron time to reply and look for subtle queues that they may need more help

Questions or comments? If you have any questions or comments to share about the webinar, feel free to contact the Admin Centre.