DIGITAL REFERENCE
Delivering remote services
Definition (RUSA)

Virtual reference is reference service initiated
electronically, often in real-time, where patrons
employ computers or other Internet technology to
communicate with reference staff, without being
physically present. Communication channels used
frequently in virtual reference include chat,
videoconferencing, Voice over IP, co-browsing, email, and instant messaging.
Definition (RUSA)
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
While online sources are often utilized in provision
of virtual reference, use of electronic sources in
seeking answers is not of itself virtual reference.
Virtual reference queries are sometimes followedup with telephone, fax, in-person and regular mail
interactions, even though these modes of
communication are not considered virtual.
Digital Reference…

Same old reference, different format/method of
delivery.
Digital Reference
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Expands service to remote users
Those with physical disabilities and mobility issues
Hearing impaired
Rural patrons
May overcome other barriers to approaching
physical/traditional reference desk
Digital Reference
Planning for service
Patrons/ Clientele
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Clearly define the clientele
Address issues of patron authentication, if required.
Any exclusions should be uniformly enforced
Market to targeted groups
Parameters of Service
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Should be extension of traditional reference
Same quality goals
Clearly define levels of service, including:
 Types
of questions service will (or will not) answer.
 How
to respond to queries outside of the parameters of
service.
 Is
document delivery included? Is it free?
 Patron population served.
Infrastructure
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Equipment, facilities, and technology must be
updated, plan for evolution
Considerations must be made for patron
infrastructure/equipment access, including patrons
with disabilities.
Spectrum of Service Models
asynchronous
email
synchronous
Instant message
Commercial chat
Page-pushing
Co-browsing
Voice over IP
Web conferencing
Instant Message
Advantages

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Patron familiarity
Low/ no cost
Little/ no special
technology
Disadvantages

Management intensive
Queuing
 Stats
 Typing (no scripting, no
page-pushing or
cobrowsing= more
typing)
Many different
applications- Meebo solves
some of this

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Commercial Chat
Advantages

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Page-pushing/ Cobrowsing
Application sharing
Scripting
Transcripts
Stats
Question routing
Disadvantages

More tech intensive
Plug-ins
 More platform
dependence
 Server space/ tech
support

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Expensive
Lower patron familiarity
Some Tools

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Embedded IM
Libraryh3lp
 Multiple
logins
 Saves transcripts
 Facilitates transfers
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Meebo, etc.
 Crosses
platforms
 Allows for embedding
Implementation
Staffing, Training, & Customer Service
Staffing Models
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On-site or Off-site
Hours of operation
 Regular,

predictable schedule
Single or Double duty
 Prioritizing
if double duty
 Scheduling if single duty

Collaborative/ Consortium Staffing
 More
common in public libraries
 Issues of geo-local questions
Training
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General technology- software/products
Resources
Customer service and quality expectations
Challenges and Obstacles
In Digital Reference
Challenges
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Time to answer
Lack of nonverbal cues
Online behaviors
Incorporating instruction
Behavioral Issues in Virtual Reference
Librarians
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Effective reference
interview
Adherence to RUSA
guidelines
Bias or discrimination
during interactions
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Response times
Length of answers
Forms of address and
closure
Users
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Inappropriate
questions/ remarks
Threats
Impatience
Inappropriate requestshomework, copyrighted
or subscription protected
materials.
Librarian Guidelines
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Set levels of expectation for behavioral interactions and
quality
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Web communication conventions
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Importance of greetings and closings
Maintaining “word contact” throughout interaction to avoid
“dropped” patrons
Acronyms (BTW, IMHO)
Emoticons ;0)
Time parameters
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Order of answering calls
Turnaround time on emails
“Callbacks” or email follow-up for in-depth questions
Behavior in Virtual Reference
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User guidelines (i.e. Texas State)
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Be patient. Network traffic may affect response time. A reference
librarian will respond to your
question as soon as possible. If your question is urgent, you may
send your response by email.
Communicate in short sentences.
Reference questions will be answered in the order they are
received.
Inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated. Common courtesies
are expected and appreciated.
A survey will be available at the end of each chat session for
users for feedback and comments
about the service.

http://www.library.txstate.edu/about/departments/ref/policies/vrpolicy.ht
ml
Instruction
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A substantial amount of instruction takes place
Incorporate guidance on finding and evaluating
information, not just providing answers
Advantage is single contact, point-of-need
assistance
Can reduce time by incorporating video, images,
and web annotation rather than just text
Privacy and Confidentiality
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Include privacy disclaimers
Develop retention schedules for transcripts & make
publicly available
Patrons should be alerted if transcripts are saved
Remove identifying information
If questions are used for databases & FAQs, make sure
no privacy/confidentiality is violated
Alert patrons that question content may be sued in this
way.
Allow for patron feedback
Connectivity
Access, Outreach, & the Digital Divide
Pew Research Report (2008)

Overall connectivity (at home)

55% of American adults have broadband

17% growth in adoption over 1 year
10% have dial-up access
 27% are not internet users (mostly over 60)
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Breakdown
25% of low income (>$20,000/yr)
 43% of African Americans
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Flat growth rate for both above groups
38% of rural Americans (compared to 57% urban)
Pew Research Report (2008)
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Levels of service
 54%
have basic broadband
 29% have premium
 One in ten non-broadband users say services aren’t
available where they live
 http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media/Files/Reports/2
008/PIP_Broadband_2008.pdf
References
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
•
Breitbach, William and DeMars, J. Michael(2009)
'Enhancing Virtual Reference: Techniques and Technologies
to Engage Users and Enrich Interaction', Internet Reference
Services Quarterly, 14: 3, 82 — 91
Gronemyer, Kate; Deitering, Anne-Marie. ‘I Don’t Think It’s
Harder, Just Different.’ Reference Services Review, 2009,
Vol. 37 Issue 4, p421-434,
Pew Research Report. (2008) Broadband.
http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media/Files/Reports/20
08/PIP_Broadband_2008.pdf
References
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Texas State Virtual Reference Policies
http://www.library.txstate.edu/about/departments/ref/policies/vrpolicy.h
tml
IFLA Digital Reference Guidelines
http://archive.ifla.org/VII/s36/pubs/drg03.htm
RUSA Guidelines
http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rusa/resource
s/guidelines/virtrefguidelines.cfm