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Realities of Virtual Reference. Presented by: Kathy Dabbour Doris Helfer Lynn Lampert California State University Northridge Presented at Internet Librarian November 17, 2004. Introduction. Decision to Start Virtual Reference History of Virtual Reference at CSU Northridge

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realities of virtual reference

Realities of Virtual Reference

Presented by:Kathy Dabbour

Doris Helfer

Lynn LampertCalifornia State University Northridge

Presented at

Internet Librarian

November 17, 2004

  • Decision to Start Virtual Reference
  • History of Virtual Reference at CSU Northridge
  • Volunteers only and its implications
  • No publicity or marketing of the service other than on the website
introduction of virtual reference
Introduction of Virtual Reference
  • Decision to Start Virtual Reference

- Attended Internet Librarian

Conference in November, 2000

- Heard about it in a presentation given by librarians from North Carolina State University

- Introduced idea at next Library’s

Executive Group Meeting..

introduction of virtual reference4
Introduction of Virtual Reference
  • History of Virtual Reference at CSU Northridge

- While Executive Group was interested in the service they wanted to know about the

costs and options.

- Referred this to The Reference and

Instruction Department Librarians

discussed and approved in concept.

introduction of virtual reference5
Introduction of Virtual Reference
  • History of Virtual Reference at CSU Northridge (continued)

- Database Coordinator Marcia Henry

was tasked with contacting Steve

Coffman and Susan McGlamery with

more information about the options

they offered.

introduction of virtual reference6
Introduction of Virtual Reference
  • History of Virtual Reference at CSU Northridge (continued)

- Steve Coffman just gone with LSSI’s Virtual Reference service. Steve was invited to campus and asked to give us a demonstration and the costs.

introduction of virtual reference7
Introduction of Virtual Reference
  • History of Virtual Reference at CSU Northridge (continued)

- Susan McGlamery - Head of Reference for MCLS and headed the 24/7 Project, a cooperative, real-time reference service, which includes public and academic libraries in the Los Angeles area. Since they were supported by Federal LSTA funding and we were members there was no cost to join the network.

introduction of virtual reference8
Introduction of Virtual Reference
  • History of Virtual Reference at CSU Northridge (continued)
  • Since LSSI would cost us and joining the 24/7 network would not we opted to start trying the 24/7 network since we had no additional money for implementation.
  • How to implement was discussed again at both the Executive Group and Reference and Instruction meetings.
introduction of virtual reference9
Introduction of Virtual Reference
  • Volunteers only and its implications
    • Both EG and RISD felt they would start on the service with volunteers willing to work on the service and that our contribution time would be limited
    • No publicity or marketing of the service other than on the website
    • Only announcement about the service was on the web site.
introduction of virtual reference10
Introduction of Virtual Reference
  • Low-key introduction was done for fear of too many questions while still learning the software and the limited resources we had to put toward the implementation
issues of concern
Issues of Concern
  • 24/7 Network and Its Grant
  • OCLC purchased 24/7 in summer 2004
  • Future costs
  • COLD – CSU Council of Library Directors
    • System-wide network and funding versus local service costs
    • Budget environment
    • Cost benefit analysis
the reality of virtual reference the challenges
The Reality of Virtual Reference- The Challenges -
  • A Brief Review of the Literature
  • Virtual Reference vs. Traditional Services
  • Staffing and Instructional Issues
  • Technical Glitches
  • The Learning Curve for librarians and patrons – what do we know?
a review of the literature
A Review of the Literature
  • Virtual Reference Services: Issues and Trends (Monograph Published Simultaneously As Internet Reference Services quarterly, 1/2). Edited by Stacey E. Kimmel and Jennifer Heise. Haworth Press, 2003
what will you find in the literature
What will you find in the literature?

According to JoAnn Sears of Auburn University Libraries literature prior to 2002 consisted of:

  • “Studies that examine either what libraries are doing or what chat technologies are available/vendors (Francoeur 2001; Gray 2000; Breeding 2001),
  • Implementation articles that describe projects done at a specific library/consortia (Broughton 2001; Eichler & Halperin 2000; Saunders 2001), and
  • Forecast articles that discuss the possibilities that chat technology will offer for the future of reference services (Coffman 2001).”

Since 2002 the Literature largely looks at the benefits of the service –Extended Coverageof in person servicesAdvantage of Matching Subject Specialists with Patrons

Pros and Cons in the Literature stack up like this….

pros cons in implementing sustaining a virtual reference service

Dependency on Online Resources

Harder to Train

Harder to Manage

Bandwith/Connection Speed (patron)

Privacy Issues

Coordination Intensive

Marketing Needed

Multiple Policies Factor


Staff Flexibility

Easier to Recruit??

Higher Morale

Staff can conceivably work from home or remote from ref desk depending on library policy

Shared collections in collaborative setup

Reach a different population?

Pros & Cons in Implementing & Sustaining a virtual reference service
administrative challenges
Administrative Challenges
  • Staffing Issues:
    • Commitment to Quality Service
    • Training (technology & procedures)
    • Motivation to participate / Buy-in
    • Time on Task (staff needed elsewhere?)
  • Adequate Hardware, Software, Support
  • Funding (costs in poor budget climate)
  • Promotion and Marketing
administrative challenges named in literature
Administrative Challenges Named in Literature
  • Lee, I.J. Do Virtual Reference Librarians Dream of Digital Reference Questions?: A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Email and Chat Reference. Australian Academic& Research Libraries v. 35 no. 2 (June 2004).
  • Smith, R.M., et. al., Virtual desk: real reference [Florida Distance Learning Library Initiative]. Journal of Library Administration v. 32 no. 1/2 (2001) p. 371-82
  • Barr, B., et al., Chat Is Now: Administrative Issues. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 8(1/2), 19-25. 2003.
public service issues uses mentioned in the literature including instruction
Public Service Issues – Uses mentioned in the literature (including Instruction)
  • Office Hours – Online Chat
  • Group Meetings
  • Provide instruction to small groups of distance learners (Hope & Silveria, 2003).

Hope, C., Peterson, C. & Silveria, J. B. (2003). Reach out and teach someone: Instructional uses of virtual reference. Paper presented at Association of College and Research Libraries 11th National Conference, April 12, 2003. Retrieved June 1, 2003 from:

Jaworowski, C. (2001). There's more to chat than chit-chat: Using chat software for library instruction. Paper presented at Information Strategies 2001 conference. Retrieved June 1, 2003 from:

implementation and training
Implementation and Training
  • How California State University Northridge implemented the Virtual Reference service.
  • How training is provided.
  • Working in a collaborative- Multiple Library Policies- Evaluation of Performance

- Supervision of service

virtual reference @ csun
Virtual Reference @ CSUN
  • Since 2001 CSUN has engaged in a virtual reference program utilizing software provided by 24/7ref.

This service was slowly added on to our already popular email reference service.

collaborative virtual reference in the csu
Collaborative Virtual Reference in the CSU
  • In 2002-3 we began the process of joining in on a CSU collaborative project to share Virtual reference hours.Joined the MCLS 24/7 project with early adopters like CSU Pomona, CSU Los Angeles
csu collaborative overall statistics
CSU Collaborative Overall Statistics
  • CSU Overview Statistics: August 15, 2003 through May 24, 2004
  • Total Number of contacts, excluding test sessions: 7993 (compare 2019 for same period in 02-03)
  • Busiest days: Monday and Tuesday
  • Busiest hours: 9 am to 10 pm
  • Internal sessions (CSU to CSU): 1562
  • External sessions (CSU to non-CSU): 1693
  • Non-CSU Librarians responded to 6,675 CSU questions
how did we train and do we continue to train our virtual reference librarians
How did we train (and do we continue to train) our virtual reference librarians
  • Several sessions provided by 24/7 trainers
  • One-on-one training provided by coordinator
  • Dissemination of training materials
  • Use of Intranet to provide online documentation
issues for joining and sustaining our ask a librarian virtual service
Issues for joining and sustainingour Ask A Librarian – Virtual Service
  • Training
  • Learning Curve – varied for librarians

Issues included:

  • Time able to spend on training
  • Establishing desktop protocols for browser requirements for software
  • Finding practice time for multi-tasking functionality of the software
challenges learning curve
Challenges & Learning Curve
  • Staff time and diversification of responsibilities
  • Difficult to assess librarians progress in mastering technology – often only transcripts (disjointed)
  • Scheduling issues (voluntary vs. required hours)
rusa guidelines http www ala org ala rusa rusaprotocols referenceguide virtrefguidelines htm
RUSA Guidelines

Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services –Issues to establish from the outset that are key involve the Organization of Service:

  • Integration
  • Finances
  • Personnel
  • Marketing
  • Evaluation
staffing in a collaborative
Staffing in a Collaborative
  • Filling the shifts
  • Covering for absences /holidays outside your library
  • Finding tech savvy librarians willing to fiddle with glitches
  • Dealing with transcripts revealing level of service on both ends of the transaction
assessment of virtual reference
Assessment of Virtual Reference
  • CSUN end-user assessment
  • Evaluation of CSU Collaborative Project
  • Librarian feedback
librarian feedback
Librarian Feedback
  • CTLSilhouette/Flashlight Online web-based survey
  • Solicited via email to 131 addresses (individual, library, or listserv)
  • 380 surveys submitted, Nov. 3-11, 2004
  • Mostly academic librarians (69%)
    • 24% public
    • 6.5% other
librarian feedback cont40
Librarian Feedback (cont.)
  • 90% provided comments
  • ½ were mixed, ¼ negative, and ¼ positive
  • Common themes
    • Issues related to consortium (-)
    • Technical problems (-)
    • Match best format to type of question (+/-)
    • Time (+/-)
    • Distance education (+)
    • Outreach (+)
    • Just another service (+)
librarian feedback cont41
Librarian feedback (cont.)
  • “It's a necessary evil in today's technologically based time. I think we would lose patrons if we didn't have an electronic reference service.”
  • “People tend to want the information instantaneously--seems to be lots of kids trying to do homework before bedtime!”
  • “I think that librarians who do virtual ref are statistically less likely to develop Alzheimer's.”
future assessment questions
Future assessment questions
  • Voluntary or required to staff VR?
  • Time
    • Average amount of time spent per type of question: compare chat, email, in-person, phone—does your library have related service policies?
    • Pressure to answer the question: compare chat, email, in-person, phone—is chat more stressful?
  • Explore “effective” reference and IL teaching—focus on the reference interview; distance learners?
  • Pros/cons of consortium service?
  • Staff training—technical only, or does it include policies, chat etiquette/style, etc.?
the future of virtual reference
The Future of Virtual Reference
  • The State of the CSU Collaborative Service
  • Local decisions
  • Prognosis
  • Final Thoughts
contact information
Contact Information
  • Kathy
  • Doris Helferdoris.Helfer
  • Lynn Lampert