I’m Sara Memmott, the virtual reference Coordinator at the Eastern Michigan University Library. I'm going to talk about strategies that helped our public services department manage the transition from stand-alone to cooperative virtual reference, first in a Michigan coop and then nationwide.
One of the main areas of concern expressed by our librarians was – what would be the quality of service to our patrons. Would librarians from other institutions be able to answer our local questions – library policies, specialized resources, would they understand that “Swoop” referred to the university mascot.
First strategy – address any such concerns directly. Hopefully this can be started during the process of deciding whether or not to join a cooperative, but at any time, listening and acknowledging that there are drawbacks and challenges to collaborative virtual reference is very important.
One part of investigating these concerns was looking at relevant local data - for example, assessing the questions asked on ourexisting virtual reference service: what types, how many were local, we discussed what information was available to help librarians from other institutions answer those questions.
We also brought to our discussions information from the virtual reference literature - about patron satisfaction in cooperatives, recommendations for effective service, professional guidelines – looking at the broader evidence about these concerns and how they could be addressed.
Or, what was most useful to our librarians: an in-person meeting with other librarians from the Michigan group when we were considering joining - we heard directly about how the librarians managed when it was busy, the quality of the service, any other questions they could answer or anecdotes they could share to convey their experience.
Taking the transition one step at a time is another useful strategy.When we joined the coop, we had more reference librarians than virtual reference hours, so all librarians were trained, but not everyone was scheduled right away. So librarians who wanted could have more time to watch and learn.
We also took a smaller step by first joining a Michigan academic cooperative, with another university and 12 community college libraries. This was an easier transition, and experience with a smaller group was useful when we considered joining the nationwide 24/7 coop a year later.
Evaluation isanother important part of this transition – librarian feedback was part of that, but we also regularly looked at the available data about how our patrons were using the service, identified what was working and what wasn’t, and make adjustments when possible, such as to scheduling.
One of our librarians’ initial concerns had been the potential difference between our university patrons and community college patrons, so along with several other librarians from the Michigan cooperative, I carried out a study comparing the types of questions asked by these groups. This research data was also a useful part of our evaluation.
Initial training needs to be followed with ongoing support for librarians: help documents, an accessible virtual reference manager, and continued training – we had refresher training sessions each semester and didn’t expect librarians to learn everything at once.
Librarians can feel also isolated doing virtual reference alone in their offices, so another form of support was making it a frequent topic at department meetings, providing opportunities for sharing experiences, having discussions, and continuing to give librarians chance to express any concerns.
I think an important part of this transition is becoming part of a community with other librarians in the cooperative – to move toward feeling like we're all in this together, helping all of our users with their research needs, rather than seeing service to other patrons conflicting with service to our patrons.
Connecting with other virtual reference librarians in ways that went beyond the day-to-day experience of working on the same service gave us opportunities to develop that sense of community.For some of our librarians that included participating in committees over email, or attending the Michigan group’s annual in-person meeting.
Strategies for managing the transition to cooperative virtual reference include: - addressing librarians’ concerns, - taking it one step at time, - include training, support, and evaluation, - and becoming part of a virtual reference community. These strategies can help librarians overcome the uncertainties inherent in taking on an unfamiliar role.Thank you!
PechaKucha Reference Renaissance 2010 : Strategies for Managing the Transition to Cooperative Virtual Reference
Strategies for Managing the Transition to Cooperative Virtual Reference<br />Sara Memmott, Virtual Reference CoordinatorEastern Michigan University<br />firstname.lastname@example.org<br />Reference Renaissance, August 9, 2010<br />