R U there? Virtual reference in academic libraries. Barry
R U There?
Virtual reference in
The Virtual Enquiry Project 2008-09
Carolyn Groom, Eithne Barry and Laurence Patterson
1. The Project
– What is virtual reference? Background to the
2. The Survey
– Virtual reference survey – Eithne
3. The Software
– Virtual reference software products -
1. How many academic libraries have
virtual reference services?
2. What do they think of the software
products they use?
3. What stops institutions from having a
• Email survey in Aug - Oct 2008
• Sent to eleven UK email discussion
lists related to academic libraries and
• Prizes - iPod Touch and Amazon
• 190 responses from 130 institutions
–82 from Higher Education (HE)
–42 from Further Education (FE)
• Half of Higher Education institutions
in the UK*
• One tenth of Further Education
institutions in the UK*
Survey bias? Or lack of interest from
*Department for Children, Schools and Families, (2008). Education and
Training Statistics for the United Kingdom
1. How many institutions have virtual
How do those with services
rate feedback about the service?
Library staff 3.77
2. What do they think of the
• Which products are libraries using?
• How satisfied were they with the
software they chose?
Small number of responses to this
How satisfied were you
with the software you chose?
„Technology - chat services are
blocked to stop students messing
around in class
3. What stops institutions from
developing a service…?
„It's not just a case of no staff time, but
rather staff not being available at the
time that our users would most need
the service. 99% of our students are
part-time, and taught in the evenings
and at weekends, when our staffing
levels currently don't allow for
additions to services offered.‟
Reasons why institutions
haven’t offered a service
What are the future plans for
your library's service?
Most institutions were either planning to
continue the service or expand.
• Those still in trial were often looking
to evaluate the service before rolling
out more widely.
• No respondents were planning to
remove or cut services.
Advice for others
„Get your staff on board with a
description of the benefits to them,
and to the users. Don't promise too
much at the beginning - better to offer
fewer hours that you know you can
fully staff, rather than more hours
where the service becomes
unreliable because of lack of staff.‟
„Go for it. It's been a fantastic service and
opens up lots of new ways of helping
students and opportunities for
collaboration between librarians and
between institutions. It's great for
getting alongside students who don't
come into libraries very often - distance
learners, placement students, carers
etc. Good for deaf students too!
• A quarter of institutions currently have a
• Most with services (77%) had offered a
service for less than two years.
• Over half had never offered a service but
said that they are considering doing so.
Still new to many libraries, and a lot of
libraries considering this for the future.