Management Models and Considerations for Virtual Reference
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Management Models and Considerations for Virtual Reference

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Column: BETTER PRACTICES FROM THE FIELD ...

Column: BETTER PRACTICES FROM THE FIELD
Management Models and Considerations for Virtual Reference.

Published in - Science & Technology Libraries, 29: 1.

By JOE MURPHY (libraryfuture on Twitter).

Abstract: Our adoption of cutting edge reference services sometimes outpaces our creation of management models capable of supporting them. Sci-tech libraries have been at the forefront of enhancing traditional services with a wide range of virtual reference services to help us meet our patrons’ increasing demands for mobility. However, a unique set of practical management considerations are required in order to successfully move from quick setup to full service support.

KEYWORDS: Foursquare, Twitter, SMS, text messaging, Facebook, Second Life, reference, technology, 2.0., virtual, digital, mobile, management

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Management Models and Considerations for Virtual Reference Management Models and Considerations for Virtual Reference Document Transcript

  • Column: BETTER PRACTICES FROM THE FIELD Management Models and Considerations for Virtual Reference Published in - Science & Technology Libraries, 29: 1. JOE MURPHY (libraryfuture on Twitter) Abstract  Our adoption of cutting edge reference services sometimes outpaces our creation of management models capable of supporting them. Sci-tech libraries have been at the forefront of enhancing traditional services with a wide range of virtual reference services to help us meet our patrons’ increasing demands for mobility. However, a unique set of practical management considerations are required in order to successfully move from quick setup to full service support. KEYWORDS Foursquare, Twitter, SMS, text messaging, Facebook, Second Life, reference, technology, 2.0., virtual, digital, mobile, management TECHNOLOGY CONSIDERATIONS Foursquare or Gowalla? Meebo or libraryh3lp? iPhone or Nexus One? Skype or Gizmo5? Second Life or There? Each technology choice carries implications for the delivery and quality of reference services, so selecting a technology requires careful evaluation of the immediate and long term management considerations. The considerations apply to all virtual reference services, whether it is Instant Messaging (IM), text messaging, VoIP (voice-over protocol), automated information kiosks, virtual worlds, or location-based social networks. Both key to successful management and a primary challenge is ensuring that the technology integrates with and enhances existing services. Added technologies preferably involve the lowest possible learning curve for librarians and none for patrons. Most importantly, it should be flexible enough to allow for the constant changes in technology and patron expectations. Reference technologies should offer added value for libraries and end users beyond that of other tools and service options. We often run up against security concerns, so it is best to seek permission for acquiring, paying for, and implementing the technology and any affiliated software, hardware, or web code in the early planning stages. I have found that it is wise to secure the dependable tech support necessary for a reliable service. 5 Instant messaging has been widely embraced as a medium for virtual reference. The emphasis should be on leveraging the screen name as point of contact and employing embedded chat widgets primarily as a point of Joe Murphy  ‐ Twitter: libraryfuture  Page 1   
  • need for online contact. This means carefully, not liberally, placing chat widgets where patrons are likely to experience a problem or need assistance. IM has not remained as popular or widespread as it was five years ago and mobile and social technologies are quickly overtaking it as communication tools. So if we continue to use IM, I suggest we adapt it and our staffing structures to meet the world of mobile info. We can make it possible for patrons to send a query by text message that is received by an IM account simply by marketing the IM client short code and institutional screen name. IM can also be made mobile friendly for librarians staffing the service by enabling mobile IM to SMS features in the major IM clients so that staff can experience the same mobility as our patrons. Options such as Facebook’s chat feature and mashups with other popular tools give us opportunities to expand and combine services while presenting changes for staffing and shifts in technology focus. The choice of IM options now requires additional considerations including understanding the mobility of each option, weighing the added benefits of tools such as Google Buzz over aggregators, and the various mashup options of librarh3lp etc. The largest technology consideration for a text messaging reference service is choosing between using a mobile device to seamlessly answer questions or one of several intermediary technologies (SMS/E-mail conversion software that translates text messages into e-mail messages, SMS/IM options that allow text messages to be received as instant messages, paid web based options, and tools such as Google Voice). Some tools require less training for librarians as they use familiar technologies while others are easier for librarians already familiar with mobile and social technologies. Management considerations for the technology options include exporting and evaluating logs and statistics, its ease of use of patrons, the potentially unreasonable expectations it may place on patrons (such as requiring the patron to remember and include a screen name within the message), the ability to maintain traditional staff work flows with the new technology or the willingness to adapt traditional practices to its needs, and the ability for the staff to seamlessly meet patron expectations with the tools. Considerations for choosing a specific mobile device include service contract and data plans, the strength of phone signal reception in the library, features such as type of keyboard (qwerty versus number pad), and added value such as the numerous features that come with smart phones. The most important consideration is choosing a service that can adapt to changing technology trends. A smart phone for instance can also provide service through Twitter, Foursquare, mobile apps, Facebook, Aardvark, and more. MANAGEMENT MODELS A carefully planned management model can make or break a virtual reference service. Successful management plans address procedures for staffing models, accountability for consistent service, the meeting of patron expectations and an exit strategy. Because change in technology and user behavior is a constant, Joe Murphy  ‐ Twitter: libraryfuture  Page 2   
  • longstanding management models allow for growth, can weather changes in staff and user expectations, and allow for shifting communication norms and expectations such as the need for real-time interaction that comes with Twitter. Authority for the service and responsibility for creating, maintaining, contributing to, and updating it should be clearly identified, as should responsibility for staffing, monitoring, and responding through the services. I suggest centralizing virtual services with triage models that refer questions out to specialists as necessary. There is also room for crowd sourcing answers with in management models. A point person needs the authority to coordinate scheduling and provide resources in support of librarians providing this service. Other considerations include procedures for limiting the services to the intended audience if necessary, policies for changing shifts and transferring patron queries. Patron expectations can be framed with policy statements that address response time and hours, types of questions appropriate for the service or services appropriate for question types/time sensitivity, and what information we want from patrons. We can plan ahead with marketing programs that include funds and assigned responsibility, and identify goals and procedures for evaluation. It may be prudent to develop an exit strategy even before we begin so we can be ready to efficiently phase out the service as necessary. TRAINING The best way for librarians to learn about and feel comfortable using the technology is to play. The largest barrier we face tends to be our fear of engaging the new technology. We will not learn if we have internal barriers born of fear or of failing. I find it helps if we can step out of the mind-set of a librarian evaluating a tool and instead approach it as a tech for improving efficiency, or even as a fun toy to lessen the pressure. Twitter, mobile applications for smart phones, Foursquare, and text messaging can be intimidating if we are not familiar with them. Using these tools in a relaxed environment without pressure helps us build trust with the technology and with ourselves engaging it, relieve techno stress, and increase chances of gaining buy in. Simulate reference transactions for active learning after personal experience is gained. Point out additional features, share shortcuts and help files, and supplement training with multimedia orientation tutorials from vendors or on YouTube. It’s no short order, but every service provider should be familiar with the features, functions, and uses of the technology and the larger view of why the tool and service has been chosen and its value. We need to feel that the technology and service is important to us and benefits us in order to feel a sense of ownership and internal motivation to support the service. We can kill two birds with one stone by sharing policy statements that help familiarize us with and point us to procedures and policies. Training can assist us with the large hurdle of adapting to new and different communication conventions by helping us feel comfortable using shorthand, letting go of strict punctuation, and embracing abbreviations and Joe Murphy  ‐ Twitter: libraryfuture  Page 3    View slide
  • concise answers as appropriate for these tools. A list of popular shorthand and abbreviations can be a helpful tool. Understanding the shifting privacy and sharing conventions expectations can be key to successfully applying and managing related technologies such as Twitter and the geo-based social games like Foursquare. Providing reference service through IM, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and even Foursquare requires a set of evolving competencies, in addition to those outlined in Science & Technology Libraries Volume 28 (1–2).   UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES Implementing social and mobile virtual library services provides the exciting side benefit of opening new ways for patrons to ask reference questions whether we plan ahead for receiving them or not. They may ask questions through comments on our blogs, profiles, and YouTube videos. They might leave notes on Flickr photos, as Twitter @replies, Facebook wall posts, Yelp comments, or as ‘Tips’ in Foursquare or comments in My Town. These emerging venues for reference require all of the same considerations we are familiar with, several additional considerations that address shifting expectations, emerging skills including social networking literacy skills (Murphy and Moulaison 2009) and mobile literacy for librarians. Providing reference service in alternate venues may require us to transform, refocus, or replace traditional services. This may represent a shifting of the deck chairs in the larger movement toward diffuse library services or possibly a semi replacement of service models. We should discuss as a profession how providing reference at these shifting points of need may transform us into online information concierges, available to assist our patrons throughout the diverse information landscape. Making flexibility a priority may help us as we face these management considerations and continue forward with the ideas of meeting our patrons’ evolving needs and implementing sustainable and successful services: whether it is with instant messaging, social networking, text messaging, VoIP, mobile apps, location based games, Google Wave, or whatever comes next over the horizon. Let’s continue to explore and discuss our evolving roles and share best practices for the myriad possibilities of mobile and virtual reference services. REFERENCE Murphy, Joe and Heather Moulaison. 2009. Social Networking Literacy Competencies for Librarians: Exploring Considerations and Engaging Participation.” Contributed paper, Proceedings of the Association of College and Research Libraries, March 12–15, in Chicago. Illinois. Available at http://bit.ly/acrlpaper Joe Murphy  ‐ Twitter: libraryfuture  Page 4    View slide