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WAAL 2008: Next generation virtual reference

Posted by on Wednesday, April 16, 2008 in WLA Blog Archive

  • Steve Frye, UW-Madison College Library
  • Mark Beatty, WiLS
  • Valerie Beech, Marquette University
  • John Jentz, Marquette University

IM/chat at UW-Madison, and future of virtual reference

  • Steve:
  • UW-Madison started online reference in 2002 with Convey software
  • Needed to change software, and thought we'd look at new vendors
  • Instead, library powers that be asked us to look at virtual reference as a whole first
  • 2006 started with blended service (chat/IM)
  • "Ask a Librarian" link ubiquitous throughout library webpages
  • Decided early on that service would be staffed at desks, with staff of various levels
  • Needed to be stable, and simple - if needed more than 5 minutes of training, too much
  • Video: watching collaboration on virtual ref between reference staff
  • Choosing software - some useful websites
  • Will add Chat button within OPAC when "no results found"
  • Discussion btw. Writing Center, IT, libraries, tutoring service re: creating virtual Information Commons
  • Using Jing - free to download, screencasting for multi-step processes, free online hosting with URLs you can send patron
  • Takes 7 steps to order another book from another UW System library
  • #1: Virtual ref isn't the point - it's just another communication channel - we don't say "telephonic reference"
  • #2: What is it we do? - if you're thinking about doing it or not, does it fit in your mission? - 1876 Samuel Greene quote on what librarians do - doesn't mention a desk, or having to be there with a patron
  • #3: What do we call what we do? - TAIGA Forum 2006 - library directors - "Within the next 5 years..." - end of reference - library role is to project specialized services into research and learning workflows - Steve: they seem unable to conceive of "reference" beyond the desk
  • If you were building a new library, would you have a ref desk? If not, why do you have one now?
  • What is the future of providing support to students and faculty doing research? Bright.
  • Are we in the buggy business? Or the transportation business?

IM at Marquette University

  • IM = commercial free; VR = expensive client-based software (aka "chat")
  • 2006: John learns of Meebo; also looked at Pidgin (was GAIM) and Trillian
  • 2007: Use both ($$$) and Meebo
  • Meebo: entirely web-based (no download), allows anonymous chat
  • Students are used to being interrupted during reference, so prioritization of modality a non-issue
  • Hand-written log for ref stats, although can keep transcripts
  • In 3 months, IM has become 7.7% of ref Qs; less e-mail (fairly steady); less still VR
  • Think IM may level off at 10%
  • Types: ref (substantive) - mainly, ref (technical), directional (technical), directional (non-technical)
  • Minority of rude, impatient patrons
  • Ref staff really like IM; don't really like (complex national scheduling, etc.)
  • [Live demo]
  • Meebo sidebar in Firefox, so you can monitor as staffperson

QuestionPoint at WiLS

  • Finally able to do quality control - virtual ref staff previously worked in a vacuum
  • Both academic and public library patrons
  • AskAway
  • QuestionPoint introduced Qwidget one month ago - availability indicator, can re-direct to email for off-hours, or link to other live coverage when you aren't available
  • Starts anonymous; can enter email address; can still get a transcript if they don't share email with staff
  • [Live demo - email icon is small and not really obvious, but otherwise looks good!]
  • NWTC using on homepage, and integrated into LibGuides
  • I was able to get it into a MySpace page, and a regular Facebook profile (not a Facebook Page)
  • Would hate to think that librarians wouldn't do something because they were afraid of being inundated by reference questions
  • Could take a while if we ever need changes made to the software; QP is huge consortium with variety of opinions (ex: co-browsing - librarian can take over patron's desktop - Mark: this is dead; others insist they need it)
  • Steve: VR vendors should have talked to users, not librarians - too many features, it became unstable
  • Audience: I tried using public library chat, and Michigan person answered - I needed local knowledge, was referred to email
  • Mark: Garbage In, Garbage Out - need to make sure you put as much information as possible on your own website, so distant librarians can help. Signs in doors when closed - "here's how to get help online"


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