Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tail of the Dog: Re-envisioning Virtual Reference

The WAAL fun continued throughout Wednesday in the Dells. Four UW-Madison librarians (Nancy McClements, Bob Sessions, Kelli Keclik, and Steven Frye) took us through the re-envisioning reference process undertaken at that campus in 2006. The process ultimately led to a "blended" virtual reference service that allows patrons to "Ask a Librarian" by chatting or using their instant messaging client. The Reference Service Task Force started out by identifying 6 key expectations, defining their reference vision, and then their virtual reference vision. The virtual reference (VR) vision:
Real-time chat is a common and expected form of communication;
VR barriers should be minimized for users and staff;
VR is a general reference service and a local service; it is readily available at time of need and at point of need; VR should be known to all; it should change and improve with user demand and technological innovations. VR should be a centrally coordinated service.

Velaro runs the chat service; Trillian runs the IM service. In Fall 2006, they had a 300% increase in VR use over the busiest semester under the old chat system. About 75% of the calls are using chat, with the remainder over IM. Fifty-five percent of users found out about the service through the library website; 67% report being very satisfied with the service received, and 21% said they were satisfied.

About 40 staff members staff the service, and 88% report that providing the new VR service has been a positive experience. It does add to the stress level, since so much is going on at once, both in person and with the VR service, but the shared responsibility is a plus.

An interesting side topic, addressed by a poster session as well, was the marketing of the program. A "retro" librarian with an index finger to the lips was deemed too stereotypical by many, although some described her as saucy or even pensive. I liked (paraphrasing here) "when you can't ask your mother" or "we specialize in stupid questions" as well as "we'll tell you where to go".

I scored three "mood pencils" at the poster session that say "Ask a Librarian" and the URL for the service - very, very cool.

1 comment:

C.S. said...


I'd like to get some more information about this post. Please drop me a line chad (at) velaro dot com.

Thank you.