Face-to-Space: Creating Buy-in for New Reference Mediums

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Originally presented at the 2009 Oregon Virtual Reference Summit. Video of the presentation is available here: http://www.oregonlibraries.net/videos/ovrs2009-facetospace …

Originally presented at the 2009 Oregon Virtual Reference Summit. Video of the presentation is available here: http://www.oregonlibraries.net/videos/ovrs2009-facetospace

Focuses on common issues libraries face in adopting new reference mediums, and provides some ideas on how to address these concerns.

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  • 1. Face-to-Space
    Creating Buy-In for New Reference Mediums
    @ Your Statewide Cooperative
    Ahniwa Ferrari
    Project Coordinator for Ask-WA:
    The Washington State Virtual Reference Cooperative
    Washington State Library | Office of the Secretary of State
    aferrari@secstate.wa.gov | 360-570-5587
    http://www.secstate.wa.gov/library/libraries/
  • 2. An Overview
    Over 60 Washington libraries participating
    21 public systems; 39 academics; numerous partners
    Versus 24 libraries at beginning of 2008
    Began in 2001 as individual grant cycles; turned into current cooperative circa 2005
    Uses QuestionPoint’s software and 24/7 cooperative
  • 3. Why Virtual Reference?
    First, let’s get rid of the idea of “virtual reference” being some sort of new service.
    If Ranganathan were a reference librarian today, his second law would read:
    “Every user his or her reference medium.”
    Because you’re committed to providing your patrons / students with help when they need it. Right?
  • 4. Think about Online Services
    How important is it that you can:
    Bank Online;
    Buy Stuff Online;
    Be Entertained Online;
    Communicate Online?
    These things are important to your users, too.
  • 5. Reference is a Conversation
    Your users want to talk to you.
    You say you want to talk to them too?
    They EXPECT you to be there when and how they need you (just like their other online services).
    Our users should get to pick how to communicate with us. OUR role is to give them as many options as possible.
  • 6. Common Issues
    I can’t do as good a job “virtually” as I can face-to-face.
    Yes, face-to-face is the ideal communication medium.
    You can’t always get what you want.
    Would you rather serve 500 users face-to-face, knowing that you’re missing another 500 “virtual” users; or would you prefer to answer all 1000 of your users, even if only 100 of those interactions are face-to-face?
    Providing reference online does require new skills, but learning these skills will make you a better librarian.
  • 7. Common Issues
    Other libraries can’t help my users effectively
    But they can START the conversation; they can engage the user; they can provide you a point of connection with that user where you can follow-up
    QP makes it so the user’s home library always has the last word with their own users
    This may not be a service issue but a content issue; what information is so sought after by your users that you’re NOT making easily accessible online?
  • 8. Common Issues
    Virtual Reference is not an appropriate forum for long/research/local/collection/assignment/etc … questions.
    Stop and think about this. Do you really think that questions involving more research / longer connection times are inappropriate, or are you just not interested in typing that much? Are you worried about your attention span or your users? Are you saying you have better things to do?
    There may be valid arguments here, but not as many as you think. Again, VR can be the doorway that opens the connection. You can always get your user started and then use your VR session to schedule a F2F meet-up.
    Check out David Lee King’s blog post relating to this: http://www.davidleeking.com/2009/01/06/ask-a-librarian-services-need-a-reboot/
  • 9. Common Issues
    We’re already over-worked; we don’t have the staff available to start a new service!
    It’s not a new service; it’s a test of your desire to provide accessible reference to your users.
    What are you doing that’s more important than being available to your users?
    The actual staff time involved is minimal when compared to the benefit received; this is particularly true in larger cooperatives where everyone pitches in for a greater good and enhanced coverage.
  • 10. Common Issues
    Virtual Reference is just the next “new thing.” If we get involved with this fad, our users will expect us to join the next fad, and the next …
    It’s called progress; or “not getting left behind.”
    I agree, you should make sure that it’s in the service of your users whenever you implement something new.
    Chat isn’t new anymore. At all. It’s not like we’re asking you to use SMS, or Twitter, or to play video games with your users.
  • 11. Benefits (A Laundry List)
    You often get much more out of a “virtual reference” service than you put into it. An average library in Ask-WA might provide $400/year and 2 hours/week staff time for a 24/7 complete reference solution.
    Statistics are built-in. Reports are included. You can monitor transcripts for quality control.
    You can add your F2F questions; then their statistics will be built-in too.
  • 12. Benefits (Yep, there are more)
    You may consider face-to-face to be the preferred method of communication, but chat can be better in numerous situations:
    Assisting your ESL users who have a hard time speaking or understanding spoken English, but have a higher level of competency with written English. Some services are also ADA-Compliant.
    Allowing people to ask questions anonymously; helpful for people who are embarrased about their questions (or afraid of librarians: SEE “Library Anxiety”).
    Two words: Distance Education.
    Two more words: Rural Users.
  • 13. Benefits (I could go on forever)
    Great tool for ongoing staff development.
    It’s where the real “reference” questions are happening. Really.
    “Virtual” questions can be routed / shared / and remixed (it’s all very Web 2.0!), offering some great opportunities for mash-up-ing and collaboration!
    Community buy-in tends to be high. Everyone likes the idea of doing more with less.
  • 14. Statewide Cooperation (it’s the thing to do)
    We’re all in it together. Hundreds of librarians sharing expertise and knowledge.
    Super subject experts from the State Law libraries and other “partner” institutions.
    “Move the question, not the patron.” The question can travel worldwide, so the user doesn’t have to.
    The more people involved, the cheaper it gets for everyone.
  • 15. Okay, so what do I need to do?
    Getting a VR service started at your library just requires ONE person to really own the project (and convince key stake-holders to let them).
    Staffing VR requires three main skills:
    A decent ability to type;
    An outstanding reference interview (and the good personal skills that go along with that);
    The ability to find reliable information from credible sources, online.
    There’s a lot of good training out there. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel.
  • 16. If you want to succeed …
    Don’t hide access (and don’t let your IT people hide it); make “CHAT with a librarian” prominent on EVERY page your users might need help (find other creative pages to put it on).
    Don’t limit the service or deter it’s use. Statements like “factual questions only plz” or “we’ll try to respond within 2 weeks” will lower your use considerably.
    Find (or create) some good success stories, and share them with reluctant librarians and admins. If you get good feedback from users, share that too!
    Talk to other libraries doing VR and find out what’s working for them. There are a lot of good ideas out there that you can take advantage of.
  • 17. Recommended Reading
    Francoeur, Stephen. “My Workshop on Effective Chat Reference.” http://www.teachinglibrarian.org/weblog/2009/04/my-workshop-on-effective-chat-reference.html.
    Hirko, Buff, and Mary Bucher Ross. “Virtual Reference Training: The Complete Guide to Providing Anytime, Anywhere Answers.” Chicago: American Library Association, 2004.
    Kern, M. Kathleen. “Virtual Reference Best Practices.” Chicago: American Library Association, 2008.
    Lankes, R. David. “New Concepts in Digital Reference.” San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool, 2009.
    Various Authors. “Reference Renaissance: Current and Future Trends.” Speaker’s Presentations. http://www.bcr.org/referencerenaissance/presentations.html.
    Lots more via Marie Radford’s “Virtual Reference Bibliography @ Rutgers: http://vrbib.rutgers.edu/.
  • 18. Face-to-Space
    Creating Buy-In for New Reference Mediums
    @ Your Statewide Cooperative
    Ahniwa Ferrari
    Project Coordinator for Ask-WA:
    The Washington State Virtual Reference Cooperative
    Washington State Library | Office of the Secretary of State
    aferrari@secstate.wa.gov | 360-570-5587
    http://www.secstate.wa.gov/library/libraries/