Session began with a definition of Virtual Reference that Barbara quoted from an RUSQ article:
Who is doing Virtual Reference?
1) U. Penn Business School (Wharton Library) and U. Penn General Reference
2) They are using 2 different systems
(a) Wharton is using LivePerson
(b) General Reference is using LiveAssistant
3) Concerns from Wharton about implementing Virtual Reference
(a) Librarians already do so much (multitask)
(b) Inundation of questions
4) Wharton's "findings" so far:
(a) They are not overwhelmed with questions through LivePerson
(b) Often complicated questions which come through LivePerson necessitate referring the patron to phone or e-mail
5) Questions from the group:
(a) How does UPenn/Wharton market the service?
3. Reference page
(b) When is it offered?
1. M-Th 3pm-9pm, Fri 3-6 (at Wharton)
2. Gen. Ref is extending the service later hours (11-1pm)
(c) Who is using the service?
1. 85% of use is by students
6) Concerns expressed by group:
(a) Foreign student use - is it easier or harder for foreign students to use this type of service?
(b) How do we screen patrons?
(c) Is this an augment to our services, or are we focusing on High End users (patrons with cell phones and faxes)?
(i) One answer to above question: Our profession is driven by technology; we need to explore technology.
(d) Is virtual reference a difficult way of doing telephone reference?
(i) One answer: Kids are on the Internet, on the Internet is where they will see the button for reference...
(ii) Phrased differently: In-library use [of reference] is going down. We need to get out to the users.
(e) Concern expressed that the "wants" of patrons are being catered to, not the "needs" of the patrons.
1. Do we need "needs assessments" before implementing Virtual Reference?
(f) Are we putting all our eggs in one basket with virtual reference?
(g) Staffing issues were briefly mentioned, particularly could/would staff do this from home?
1. Staff might be willing to work late if they could do so from home (instead of working on-site)
2. Appropriate technology would have to be provided.
7) Other questions from group
(a) Is anyone using "chat" (AOL or Yahoo for example)
1. Plus of "chat" services:
i. Students are comfortable with this service
ii. Anyone, anywhere can access it - the screening question
8) Other types of Virtual Reference:
(a) Almost everyone does e-mail reference.
1. Questions about e-mail reference:
i. Turn around times - does anyone guarantee less than 24 hours?
ii. Is anyone analyzing their data?
iii. CU gets questions from 11am on
iv. UPenn - time of use is random
v. Concerns expressed about handling of outside users.
(b) Wharton (UPenn Business) is also creating "Instant Answers" (FAQs) from their Live Person system. These may be siphoning off questions that would have been asked with live reference, but this is a non-interactive service.