Discussing Virtual Reference

June 29, 2014


Updated Tuesday, August 5, 2014 – 14:52

If you are thinking about or are in the early stages of building a virtual reference service for your library, implementing a Virtual Reference Companion (VRC) Resource is a great place to start.

I had the opportunity to meet with this part of RUSA (known as MARS: Emerging Technologies in Reference Section of RUSA) today at the Paris Hotel, and the discussion topics were about developing a VRC and how attendees could help expand its knowledge base, specifically through utilizing Virtual Reference (VR) Discussion Groups.

MARS cochair at the time of the presentation, Samuel Rutherford Stormont, gave a brief history of VRC, which is broken up into nine modules. Module 5, Staffing/Partners is still a work in progress, said Karen Reiman-Sendi and Laura Friesen, members of RUSA MARS/RSS Virtual Reference Tutorial Subcommittee, but it was close to completion as they load the data into Drupal. Stormont added that ALA has been very supportive of the constantly evolving project by providing resources such as crucial training in Drupal.  

After this introduction, attendees were split into two large groups to share our experiences using or participating in virtual reference, with the goal of gathering feedback on the VRC as well as receiving assistance with populating the tips and best practices section of the online resource. LibraryH3lp came up as a useful resource, as did Springshare.

Friesen, reference and instruction librarian at the University of Michigan–Flint, brought up the topic of training participants who provide virtual reference services to be more aware of their language. A “warmer” approach to communicating virtually is important, she said, as a way to impart a friendly tone while still maintaining professional interactions with patrons.

Other topics discussed: types of feedback given to virtual reference staffers; the importance of speed in responding to patrons; and the use of internal communication methods to keep virtual reference staff members connected and updated.

At the end, Stormont presented this link and said he hoped the conversation regarding best practices would continue on ALA Connect. This discussion is open to all.

MICHELE LESURE is an MLIS candidate at Florida State University and works at the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida

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