Monday, December 27, 2010

Virtual/chat reference

What is virtual reference?
Virtual reference has been referred to as:
  • 24/7
  • Ask a Librarian
  • Digital reference
  • E Reference (electronic reference)
  • Live chat
  • Chat reference


  • Chat (also called Interactive chat): Real-time communication between two users via a computer. Once a chat has been initiated, either user can enter text by typing on the keyboard and the entered text will appear on the other user’s monitor. Chat reference allows users to communicate instantaneously with librarians.
  • Co-browsing: With chat software, this feature allows the librarian and the patron to navigate the web together remotely, viewing the same web pages and databases.
  • Escorting: Escorting allows the librarian to ‘lead’ a patron around the web: a librarian clicks a button and ‘pulls’ the patron around to various sites.
  • Push Pages: The simplest of web-sharing applications, in which a librarian types (or pastes), an URL and clicks a button, resulting in the page being displayed on the patron’s browser.

Why do chat reference?

  • To serve patrons anywhere at anytime, including distance students, students enrolled in online programs, and patrons who prefer the anonymity and/or convenience of virtual reference to in person reference.


  • Which patrons will your Chat Reference Services serve?
    o Patrons should provide identification.
    o Will you provide patrons of your own library, or will you form a consortium with other libraries giving their patrons membership?
  • How will you enforce this?
  • What types of questions will you answer?
    o factual?
    o how to begin research in an area?
    o in depth research?
    o instruct service usage
    o What legal/medical questions will be answered?

Sample transcript

Student: Is there any information on the massacre that occurred in Televoice, mexico in 1987?
A librarian will be with you in about a minute.
[Librarian – A Librarian has joined the session]
Librarian: Hello, this is the reference librarian. I’m reading your question…

Librarian: Is this for a school project? [This is a example of a closed question.] If so, what grade level is this for, so I don’t give you something that is too technical or too easy? [This is a open sense making question]
Student: I am a sophomore in college…

Student: another question would be is, where can I find scholarly written journals?
Librarian: I am not sure if your library has access to the electronic version of the Reader’s Guide…

Librarian: When is your deadline?
Student: March.
Librarian: I will forward your question back to your library. The usual turnaround time is 72 hours.
Librarian: At least you are doing your research early.
Librarian: We will email you with a response to your question. (Note to staffL xferin) If you need more help, please contact us again. [This is an example of a follow up question] Goodbye, and thank you for using the 24/7 Reference service.

Further information
• Francoeur, S. “Chat Reference.” The Teaching Librarian
• Sears, J. “Chat Reference Service.” Issues in Science and Technology. Fall 2001
• Ronan, J. “The Reference Interview Online.” Reference & User Services Quarterly. 43:1 Fall 2003 (Available on Academic Search Premier)

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