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CSI Cyberspace: A Multiple Case Study Investigation of the Untimely Demise of Seven Virtual Reference Services. Marie L. Radford, Ph.D., Rutgers University mradford@scils.rutgers.edu M. Kathleen Kern, MLS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign katkern@uiuc.edu New Reference Research:

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CSI Cyberspace: A Multiple Case Study Investigation of the Untimely Demise of Seven Virtual Reference Services

Marie L. Radford, Ph.D., Rutgers University

mradford@scils.rutgers.edu

M. Kathleen Kern, MLS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

katkern@uiuc.edu

New Reference Research:

11th Annual Reference Research Forum,

ALA, Chicago June 25, 2005

problem statement
Problem Statement
  • Number of chat reference services growing
    • 3000+ chat & IM (Coffman & Arret, 2004)
  • Alive & Clicking!
    • Many services are successful and viewed as integral
  • Clicked the Bucket!
    • However, a number of chat services have died untimely deaths.
  • Why?
research questions
Research Questions
  • What were the deciding factors for ending these services?
  • Who was involved in making the decision to end the services?
  • How could these failures/false starts have been prevented?
  • What has been the impact of discontinuing these services?
  • What are the similarities and differences among the cases?
  • What lessons can be learned to ensure the success of existing services or newly developing services?
modus operandi method
Modus Operandi - Method
  • Multiple Case Study Method
  • Selection of Cases & Informants
    • 7 Cases
  • Data Collection
    • Email Surveys
    • Telephone Interviews
    • Examination of Documents
method continued
Method Continued
  • Analysis of Results
    • Case Descriptions of Each Case
    • Comparison of Cross – Case Findings
      • Similarities
      • Differences
    • Iterative Process
    • Examination of Documents
results
Results
  • Despite our original & advertised title we had 7 cases not 6.
    • 5 Academic
    • 1 Public
    • 1 Consortium
  • One surprise, all 7 agreed to be interviewed & share their experiences.
  • Another surprise – Most (5-7) had no grant funding!
starting operating the service common themes
Starting & Operating the Service – Common Themes
  • No additional staff hired.
  • Broad target audience – same as for in-person service.
  • Distance education students a focus.
  • Limited hours of operation.
    • Average 22.4 hours per week
  • User response positive.
postmortem 5 major reasons for discontinuing services
Postmortem - 5 Major Reasons for Discontinuing Services
  • Funding – Budget Cuts
  • Low Use
  • Staffing
  • Technical Problems
  • Institutional Culture
reasons for discontinuing service
Reasons for Discontinuing Service

Note: Totals to 8 since Case B listed 2 primary factors (Technical Problems and Low Use).

csi cyberspace mystery
CSI Cyberspace Mystery
  • Why did these services have such low volume?
giving vr a fair trial
Giving VR a Fair Trial …
  • Shortest services ran 6 months (2 services)
  • Longest run was 26 months
  • Average of 17 months
impact of closing services
Impact of Closing Services
  • Common Trends
    • Demise had limited impact.
    • Users did not notice.
    • Email reference (phone service) more promotion, more use.
  • Unique Responses
    • Staff relieved, less pressure.
lessons learned
Lessons Learned
  • If doing a multiple case study, don’t put a number in your title for conference papers.
  • Consortium necessities:
    • Full-time coordinator
    • Variety of libraries
  • Some reference questions are better answered by email.
more lessons learned
More Lessons Learned…
  • Critical factors:
    • Staff training & enough volume for staff to stay primed, comfortable staffing patterns
    • User needs assessment
      • What hours for service?
      • What software?
    • User evaluation
    • Marketing
    • Design prominent & easily identifiable link
the mystery remains unsolved ongoing investigation season 2 future research directions
The Mystery Remains UnsolvedOngoing Investigation… Season 2? Future Research Directions
  • Low volume, what are critical factors?
  • Have identified 3 additional cases.
    • Perhaps more will be identified today.
  • More rigorous examination of documents.
  • Research on successful services – what factors ensured their success?
  • User expectations of service – what hours, days? More on users.
  • More research on non-users
future directions for services
Future Directions for Services
  • Investigate free & simpler software
    • IM or refTracker
  • Consortia
    • Share Cost
    • Share Staff
  • Continue to scan landscape
conclusion
Conclusion

PPT slides will be posted at:

RUSA Reference & Statistics Committee Site

http://www.ala.org/RUSA

Thanks & Questions???

Marie L. Radford, Ph.D., Rutgers University

mradford@scils.rutgers.edu

M. Kathleen Kern, MLS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

katkern@uiuc.edu