The ALA Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services define virtual reference this way: Virtual reference is reference service initiated electronically, often in real-time, where patrons employ computers or other Internet technology to communicate with reference staff, without being physically present. Communication channels used frequently in virtual reference include chat, videoconferencing, Voice over IP, co-browsing, e-mail, and instant messaging.
Some prefer it to phone (I do)
Same as face-to-face. Don’t get in a big hurry.
Chat/IM culture is typically informal. Mirror the patron’s level of formality/informality (but don’t use too many acronyms).
Keep in touch. Send messages every 1-2 minutes. Silence is not OK.Use screenshots (Jing (free) SnagIt (cheap)) to email images/instructions to users.
Send the patron links and try to stay on the same page. Describe how to get to resources. Check on what their current URL is.BreakMessagesUp. Send about a line at a time. It takes too long to type a whole paragraph.
Give users time to look over information. Always invite them to return later.If you feel like you might need major follow-up, ask for an email address or phone number.
What is virtual reference?<br />Francoeur, Stephen. Digital Reference Options. Presentation for WebJunction, 30 September 2009.<br />
Why Try Virtual Reference?<br />Provides synchronous help for remote users<br />Many library users (particularly teens and young adults) are very comfortable with the IM format. Consider your audience!<br />
Popular Tools for Chat/IM<br />Meebo<br />Trillian<br />Question Point<br />Libraryh3lp<br />See more chat widget options: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/10_chat_widgets.php<br />
Parts of the Transaction<br />Greet the patron<br />Ask open and closed questions to determine information needs<br />Search and provide instruction on how to use sources<br />Verify that the patron understands search results and is finding appropriate information<br />Follow-up and/or refer, when appropriate, to other librarians or appropriate locations<br />
Tips for Chatting<br /><ul><li>Keep in touch – Send messages to the patron every 1-2 minutes. Silence is not OK.
BreakMessagesUp – Send about a line of text at a time. Writing whole paragraphs at once takes too much time.
IMHO – Chat/IM culture is typically informal. Mirror the patron’s level of formality/informality (but don’t use too many acronyms).
Be on the same page – Send the patron links and describe how they can get to the resources you are using during the search.
Come back soon – Patrons may want to look over information you send them and come back to you later. Give them the opportunity to do so.
Create a list of commonly used phrases to drop into your end of the chat.
If you have face-to-face patrons and chat at the same reference desk, consider whether face-to-face transactions take precedence over chat. If they do, then be sure to write a quick message to the chat patron saying, “I’ll be with you in 3 minutes.”</li></li></ul><li>Some WY Libraries Using Chat/IM<br />Laramie County Library (http://www.lclsonline.org/services/askalibrarian/)<br />Teton County Library (http://www.tclib.org/index.php/about_tcl/chat/) <br />University of Wyoming Libraries <br /> (http://www-lib.uwyo.edu/services/ask.cfm) <br />
More Information: Readings<br /><ul><li>Reference and User Services Association Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rusa/resources/guidelines/virtrefguidelines.cfm
Trends in Digital Reference: http://www.teachinglibrarian.org/weblog/2009/02/trends-in-digital-reference.html (check out other posts on this blog, too, if you’re interested)
The Effects of Librarians’ Behavioral Performance on User Satisfaction in Chat Reference Services from Reference and User Services Quarterly: http://www.rusq.org/2008/01/06/the-effects-of-librarians-behavioral-performance-on-user-satisfaction-in-chat-reference-services-2/</li></li></ul><li>More Information: Video<br />
Homework<br />Use the Ask a Librarian virtual reference service at a library and see what the user experience is like. Be sure and ask a genuine question that you have, so that the experience will be as authentic as possible. Did the librarian welcome you? Stay in constant communication? Answer your question satisfactorily? Post in the comments about your experience. No need to state which library you visited, just share your experience with us.<br />Here are a few libraries to try. Some libraries restrict virtual reference services to users of their particular library, so I’d suggest steering clear of those. The reference services below are open for anyone to use: <br /><ul><li>New York Public Library: http://www.nypl.org/questions/chat.html
Duke University Libraries: http://library.duke.edu/services/ask/
University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries: http://www.library.wisc.edu/ask/
Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries: http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/libraries/services/ask.html</li>