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Library 464: Virtual Reference


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Library 464

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Library 464: Virtual Reference

  1. 1. VIRTUAL REFERENCE Prepared by Anne Kish Updated: November 23, 2016 For LIBM 464: Reference Resources Week 15
  2. 2. TO REVIEW… We’ve already studied the ALA’s Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) guidelines for behavioral performance of Reference and Information Service Providers, and we know the 5 guidelines like the backs of our hands. 1. Visibility / Approachability 2. Interest 3. Listening/Inquiring 4. Searching 5. Follow-up
  3. 3. BUT, HOW DO THE 5 GUIDELINES APPLY TO VIRTUAL REFERENCE?  Not all School Library Media Centers provide virtual reference services, but they all may soon enough, so this is as good a time as any to consider the possibilities.  Virtual reference services in the School Library Media Center are new enough that there isn’t a lot of quantitative data on best practices, but here are some ideas…
  4. 4. 1. Visibility / Approachability Think about what works best for you in your everyday interactions with your students or peers. How do you normally communicate? Are you all business? Are you a joker? Whoever you are, try to be yourself when you speak with students online. Your personality should come across so that the students feel like they are talking with you – their trusted librarian!
  5. 5. 2. Interest  Most of you are truly interested in answering reference questions. If you are truly interested and you are comfortable communicating online, the students will perceive your interest even if they can’t quite see you nodding and smiling at your monitor.  The one thing that will almost guarantee that a student will think that you are disinterested is failing to reply to questions promptly. If you’ve taken an online class where the instructor is pokey about feedback, you know what I mean. So, reply as quickly as you can. On your website, clearly post a timeline for responses so that students can know when they can expect your responses. If you need 2 full weekdays to respond to questions, then state that. (That is a reasonable turn-around time).
  6. 6. 3. Listening/Inquiring I sing the praises of virtual reference, but I will never dispute that an in-person reference transaction is far easier. The instant feedback and the body language are the most useful aspects of the in-person reference transaction. Other than boosting your comfort level with online communication, how can you facilitate an online reference interview? It is fine to ask a clarifying question and wait for a response, but if you are using email, that may increase turn-around time and lower user satisfaction. If you have a “submit an email question” type of service, try to provide more than just one box for the user. Provide a big box for the question, but also come up with a list of other questions that the user must fill out before submitting. Some examples, “What is your assignment? What class is this assignment for?” “What grade are you in?” “What have you already read about the topic?” The more background info that you have about the assignment and the student, the better your answer will be .
  7. 7. 4. Searching It has become impossible to keep up with all of the available resources. Sometimes you’ll know what the perfect resource is to use to answer a question. Other times, you’ll be frustrated when you can’t find that perfect resource.
  8. 8. 4. Searching Continued A few ideas… 1. When searching for online information in a chat forum, ask the students where they have already looked so that you don’t waste time duplicating their efforts. 2. Instead of trying to keep up with everything, commit to regularly reviewing 2 or 3 resources to learn about new reference sites. School Library Journal is a good bet. There are a lot of good ideas being shared on Wired Montana and you will probably need to monitor that listserve anyway. 3. When working online with a student, cobrowse when possible. Tell the student what site you are exploring and quickly send them the link so that they can see where you are. Some virtual reference software allows for automatic cobrowsing. The librarian selects cobrowse and the patron is automatically brought along on the journey.
  9. 9. 5. Follow-up Again, this is tougher in a virtual environment because you can’t see the look of satisfaction or the look of confusion on the student’s face. Ask the students if they understand and if they have any questions. Let them know how they can get back in touch with you when they think of their questions later. If you feel like you need a face-to-face meeting with the student, set that up. End by thanking them for using the virtual reference service! Smiley faces are nice 
  10. 10. Conclusion  Don’t expect your first virtual reference transaction to be your best work – it won’t be.  As more virtual reference is implemented in schools, research will become available to help guide us to provide better virtual reference services and to help us set best practices.  Perhaps you will be a virtual reference pioneer at your school!
  11. 11. Observations  I served as a virtual reference librarian for the “Ask-A-Montana-Librarian Service” for a number of years until it was discontinued. Librarians from around the state took weekly 2-hour shifts at the virtual reference desk. It sounded like a great idea and the MT legislature contributed funding for it, but eventually they cut that funding and rightly so. Despite hefty marketing initiatives, it just wasn’t well-used. Why peer-to-peer VR services became so wildly popular at the same time that a librarian-staffed VR service flopped is an interesting thing to think about.  The MT state legislature didn’t give up entirely on VR and in 2011 they funded Homework MT , which was a subscription service geared to K-12 students. It was well-used, and outsourcing VR to a corporation worked better than the service provided by our state-wide collaboration of librarians.  In 2015, the Homework MT service was discontinued because it was funded by the State Library through coal tax severance monies, which decreased suddenly and substantially. Right now, there is not a state-wide virtual reference service.
  12. 12. Why Slideshare? You could be wondering why I posted this in SlideShare instead of in Moodle. It’s just because I want you to see this wonderful free space where you too could easily post things for your students to read. Maybe you want to create instructions for your students for accessing library resources from off-campus, but you don’t have server space or your IT person has other ideas. You could use SlideShare. I don’t know what applications you’ll find for SlideShare, but it can be one more tool in your toolbox.
  13. 13. Bibliography RUSA Board. (2013). Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers. Retrieved from Purcell, Kristin; Rainie, Lee; Heaps, Alan, (2012). How Teens do research in the digital world. Retrieved from