Breakout Sessions

Breakout Session I

A. Virtual Reference Service

Section 1 - Jill Parchuck, Facilitator; Elizabeth LaRue, Recorder

TOPIC -- What is Virtual Reference

Subtopics -
a. definition of virtual reference
b. what virtual reference services are we providing now
c. what are the challenges of virtual reference
d. what could we do collaboratively to provide virtual reference service

I. Virtual reference defined:

1. Online service
2. E-mail
3. Chat
4. Reference service through distance
5. Telephone
6. Help screens
7. Electronic pathfinders
8. Databases
9. Whatever it is, it has to be interactive

Virtual reference is without physical contact - but it is leading and guiding

Virtual reference is "when and where it is needed." But, reference. itself cannot be virtual; there has to be a human involved to be reference service.

Before we can define virtual reference, we need to define our users. Then, virtual reference can be defined. It is like a library and librarians, virtual reference is reactive and it is right.

II. What virtual reference services are we providing now?

Our current virtual references are 24/7. They are:

1. databases
2. knowledge bases
3. e-mail
4. web browsing
5. chat

Virtual reference might be making us answer providers, not information sources. We need to turn our passive information (FAQs, pathfinders) into a virtual environment.

III. What are the challenges of virtual reference?

1. Getting users to ask the right question
2. Getting the librarians involved and with the desire to do virtual reference
3. Having enough staff to do virtual reference
4. Having to change the model of reference service
5. Finding out who our customers are
6. Advertising and competing with the big rich corporations (i.e. Elsevier)

IV. How can we collaborate with virtual reference?

1. Subject oriented librarians can share knowledge with each other
2. Share the technical information for setting-up virtual reference with other schools
3. Develop standards for software so files will work interchangeable easily

--Elizabeth LaRue

Section 2 - Barbara List, Facilitator; Cynthia Johnson, Recorder

Session began with a definition of Virtual Reference that Barbara quoted from an RUSQ article:
"Internet-based, Human-mediated."

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?

1. Homepage
2. Databases
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.

--Cynthia Johnson

Section 3 - Deborah Wassertzug, Facilitator; Jerry Breeze, Recorder

V.R. definition: Any electronic service that links the user to a library staff member.

There is a marketing challenge -- if users don't think that they need assistance, they won't user V.R. any more than go to a Ref Desk.

There is an audience for each approach -- desk, e-mail, chat; one doesn't necessarily replace another

There is a commitment of time -- staffing the service and promotion of it

One library has an "Ask A Librarian" button on each web page -- it goes to an e-mail system & is answered by a group of 30 people, each of whom sees all the questions (650/month) Everyone thinks that the number of face-to-face reference questions has dropped, but each interaction islonger

Drexel is trying live chat with a student working 10pm - 2am, giving quick reference and making referrals; too soon to gauge the effectiveness; concern about trying to fill those hours on a continuing basis

Are librarians being seduced by the technology? -- one library thinks that chat may actually be a passing technology for students; we're jumping on the bandwagon too late

Are users really asking for "live chat w/a reference librarian?" -- we should give them what they want

Has anyone done any cost/benefit studies on the various information methods?

  • Reference desk
  • V.R. (e-mail or chat)
  • Web pages

--Jerry Breeze

B. Reference Measures - Statistics and Standards

Section 1 - Jane Winland, Facilitator; John Tofanelli, Recorder

Part I: Statistics

Librarians from various institutions discussed how they keep reference statistics. Some libraries keep reference statistics on a daily basis; others follow a sampling method, taking statistics during specified periods.

Most libraries try to capture some indication of the variety of types of reference transaction (for example, ready reference vs. more substantial reference transactions); some libraries also make efforts to track types of users (for example, graduate or undergraduate).

Many libraries note the importance of tracking reference inquiries that may not directly be received at the desk, such as telephone or e-mail queries, or direct consultations with librarians. Regarding email queries there was some discussion of "e-metrics," a proposed approach to keeping statistics on queries received electronically.

At Princeton they have discontinued keeping reference transaction statistics. They instead meet regularly with academic departments to assess if needs are being met.

What do statistics mean and who uses them?
One department head pointed out that reference statistics are useful from a managerial point of view, assisting in planning with when and how the reference desk should be staffed. It was also pointed out that library and/or university administration will make reference to them in evaluating the productivity of reference services.

How reflective are statistics of what we actually do?
Statistics on number of transactions may be going down, but the complexity of the reference questions and the amount of time spent on each is on the increase. How should this be recorded? Should ARL guidelines for keeping reference transaction statistics be reexamined and/or revised?

Part II. Standards

How do we measure or assess quality of performance?

Methods for clarifying and encouraging maintenance of standards were discussed. One manager pointed out that it was useful to have discussions within departments on values and standards. At another institution, there are more than 6,000 e-mail questions received each year, and each librarian response goes to an e-list that all librarians have access to.

Should subject specialists define the competencies for their specific subject areas that all reference librarians in the department should meet?Are we faced with a decline of the generalist in reference services and the rise of the subject specialist?

Should everyone be an expert in all general databases?
Some databases that might be regarded as general, such as those on CIS, actually become quite complex, when considered in the context of alternative databases that contain comparable but distinct information.

Is it possible to measure performance qualitatively? Are staff threatened by the possibility of standards?


One manager mentioned that lots of professions are not evaluated: you either trust professionals or you don't.

Competencies should not only be thought of in terms of knowledge, but also in terms of style of interaction--customer service skills. Librarians often learn these things from one another, especially in situations where they have the opprotunity to staff the desk together.

--John Tofanelli

Breakout Session II

C. User Instruction - Close or at a Distance

Section 1 - Ree DeDonato, Facilitator; Joe Caruso, Recorder

DeDonato initiated the discussion by posing two closely related questions:

(1) Should we be doing user instruction?
(2) What are the specific challenges in our research environment?


The group (over 20 people) outlined a set of definitions for "user instruction" during the course of the entire discussion :

--in-person individual reference consultation at a reference desk
--in-person, group instruction for a specific subject or course-related
--general electronic reference
--e-mail reference consultation
--stand alone, in-person group instruction on a specific tool or product
--general "Fall semester orientation tours"

Patricia Renfro (CUL) pointed out that the group ought to consider what Virginia Massey-Burzio (JHU) had presented in the morning panel session:What if we stopped doing "instruction?"...especially since it is so staff labor intensive.... How can we make the activities at the "reference desk" more effective?

DeDonato pointed out that the group also needs to keep in mind that what Massey-Burzio is suggesting is a reallocation of time spent on certain tasks by reference librarians and not a decrease in workload or time spent. So, for example, instead of "desk" hours, more time will be spent on "web development". Massey-Burzio added that she would like to know: What does the group think are the "downsides" todoing away with "user instruction" and traditional "reference desk" approaches?

One member pointed out that "group instruction" should not be abandoned because it is an efficient way of serving user needs....as opposed to offering in-person, individual instruction over and over again on the same subject or set of library skills. DeDonato reminded the group that the question before us was: Is the only alternative to "in-person, group instruction" a "one-on-one instruction"scenario?

Another member declared that she recognized the utility of having web pages with FAQs on certain library needs, but that she was still a "believer" in in-person interaction between librarian and users.

Mary Steiner (Princeton) pointed out that it is a widely accepted that "in-class instruction" with faculty support is the most effective way of reaching users in the academic research environment. That is to say, the best kind of instruction is tailored to specific assignments and needs.

Another member mentioned that in the context of a health sciences library and medical school/hospital, certain "basic" library skills classes are really needed. Medical staff are often not the kind of people who will find out what they need very easily by web browsing.

Bob Scott (CUL) suggested that a "general orientation" to the library was still useful for many users, especially undergraduate students,who needed a review of the variety of resources available to them. He also argued that at CUL, some graduate students in the Arts & Sciences have clearly benefited from taking a library skills course.

In other words, some users actually do benefit from "one-on-one" contact with librarians and some librarians are very effective at this approach. Moreover, some librarians may not be able to apply their teaching skills to developing a web-based solution or a "web tutorial."It is not an "either/or situation" for many research environments.

Caruso (CUL) asked the group if any institutions represented had designed an 'online, interactive tutorial' for user instruction.

After the break-out discussion, Mary Steiner (Princeton) mentioned that there was this well-publicized "tutorial" at the University of Texas called "TILT". See: http://tilt.lib.utsystem.edu/. [Caruso: A very basic skills 'tutorial' for the general public and high school, maybe college freshmen, but not of much use for an academic or scholarly research community.]

Massey-Burzio (JHU) responded that her original question was not about moving to a "tutorial" model per se. The typical "tutorial" is an A-Z, step-by-step, self-taught course. She argued that most users do not want to do them. Instead, she asked would it not be better to provide a web-based service that works in the following way: A user types something into a search box and gets the answer(s).

Massey-Burzio cited a recent study [by Carol Woodson?] that reviewed the effectiveness of a "distance-education" project in which"library staff" provided approx. 2,000 users with the information they needed. The model was interactive in the sense that staff communicated with users electronically. Users were able to ask questions and staff helped them to clarify their questions and research topics. Then, the staff did the research and sent the results to the users.

A flurry of critiques/comments followed: One member wondered out loud if such a "corporate model" is suitable to an academic research environment. Another member said that it simply would not work in a setting where you have only 2 librarians and 4,000 engineering students. Scott (CUL) argued that academic researchers and "humanists" need to know how to evaluate information and they only learn how to do it by doing the research themselves. In other words, the process of doing research in itself has value to a scholarly community. The ultimate questions are 'what is higher education for'? and 'do we really want a society in which library users are being passively fed information?' Another member interjected: but most of our students are not going to be scholars are they?!

Jane Bryan (Princeton) remarked that one of the key issues from the morning panel session is that 'students need to be able to read and think about "new" ideas. How can libraries assist in the search for/production of "new" knowledge? Moreover, many students are simply not interested in learning how to use a whole range of complex databases and finding tools....which is often the focus of our "user instruction" efforts.

Barbara Sykes-Austen (CUL) pointed out that the library is also part of a larger institutional corporate culture. At Columbia, we have a project like fathom.com, for example. Where do libraries fit into the plans being launched by university administrations? An academic library cannot ignore what the university is doing. If a university moves towards greater investment in forms of "distance education" or other digitalenvironment initiatives, shouldn't libraries be involved in some way in the development of these policies or initiatives?

With regard to the use of technological solutions: Several members mentioned the usefulness of web pages that are essentially "FAQ"s. Theyalso argued for the usefulness of e-mail in answering reference questions, etc.

However, one member pointed out that even if a librarian is able to communicate "one-on-one" via e-mail with a user, there are some important drawbacks: First, the librarian frequently does not know the complete research background of a user; there isn't enough time to find this out over e-mail. Second, the librarian often does not know the outcome of a reference consultation or instruction session. These issues can only be addressed through in-person instruction, reference interview, and/or follow-up with students and faculty. A web page or search tool in itself is insufficient.

John Tofanelli (CUL) pointed out that he agreed that some web search tools should be designed better with regard to maximizing 'interactivity'. For example, one could imagine a situation in which a user could input a search term (or set of terms) in 'natural language'. The software application could provide the user with a question (or set of questions) which would help to refine or limit the search in order to insure a good result. Some of this capability already exists in a general web product like AskJeeves. However, the content of the results usually does not reflect the full range of available scholarly information on a subject and therefore does not serve the user well.

One member pointed out that the concept of "flexibility" was clearly important to any policy recommendations for library user instruction.As in the past, there appears to be an imperative for librarians to create a set of research environments which help user communities with a wide range of needs.

--Joe Caruso

Section 2 - Alysse Jordan, Facilitator; Linda Rath, Recorder

Overview of Break-Out Session

User instruction has been moving to a mobile, user-centered model designed for multiple learning styles to be accessed when the users' needs arise (24 hours) in various interactive media formats with engaging teaching tools. Librarians are finding a need to broaden their teaching methods & technological skill base, form collaborative assignments & instructional partnerships with faculty, and build administrative & institutional support.

Where Are We Now?

Libraries primarily require users & faculty to visit the library for demonstrations, workshops, socials, orientations, and tours. Attendance of these events has varying success, but mostly have increasingly diminishing numbers, and perhaps effectiveness. Online guides and Web pages have been added to library pages to supplement or replace instructional sessions and for reference when a librarian is not present.

Institutional support has been demonstrated in various manners, some including: faculty collaboration on Web pages, courses and in-class instruction, administrations creating new positions incorporating instructional design & technological skills, support of required literacy courses/modules, & workbooks, and establishing a university wide e-community software such as Blackboard.

What Has Been the Impact of Technology on User Instruction?: Content vs. Technology

Technology has increased hands-on instruction with the technology being taught along with the content. More time is needed to prepare for sessions and for setting up of computer labs. A greater variety of tools have been created for the same topic (BI, Web pages, workshops, handouts), which are useful for those that could not attend a session or for those with different learning styles. The cost of instruction is becoming a primary concern when users are not physically attending workshops and a librarian can make better use of time by teaching at a reference desk or creating online tools. An emphasis on creating Web based instructional tools, accessible at all times, may be more cost efficient.

Reaching Users of Diverse Learning Styles

The variety of tools created for users is one way to touch upon different learning styles. Online instructions may be used by foreign students (English as a second language), visitors and alumni to learn about tools at their own pace or prior to visiting/using the library and the sources. In-class instruction with librarian-faculty team teaching with more than one session is ideal, but hard to establish due to busy schedules and limited class time.

The 21st Century: A Post-BI Era?: Alternatives to Traditional Library Instruction/Future Directions

User instruction needs to be more relevant to course objectives and assignments, rather than general library sponsored workshops. Group projects with faculty-librarian collaborations that create course modules and team teach seem to be the most effective. "Reluctant" senior faculty or those that prefer instruction outside of class time need to be addressed. Librarians need to gain better teaching skills that engage students and to continuously learn new technology via administrative supported professional development. New instructional tools, such as streaming video or interactive media, need to involve students in the learning process and not allow them to passively "watch the show". New tools also need to be mobile, where librarians can find students, or students can find librarians, through software (live, real-time tools) or a laptop with access to tools.

--Linda Rath

Section 3 - Nancy Friedland, Facilitator; Gail Anderson, Recorder

Where are we today?

In person instruction includes consultations which are subject specific, workshops both general skill set and subject specific, course related at faculty request. Decline in basic instruction courses. Very low attendance. Most successful in person instruction is on demand and subject specific-user will seek instruction when needed. Generally, graduate students benefit most from in person instruction-very difficult to reach undergraduates. And, course related instruction generally requested by faculty.

Online instruction includes tutorials, both general skill set and subject specific. More emphasis on creating subject specific online instruction primarily pathfinders and in some cases, instruction tailored for a specific course. Much of the online instruction provided isdeveloped by librarians (at will) with the subject expertise and HTML skills. Issue of making online instruction interactive and that interactivity would provide more training as opposed to just providing information. Thought that interactivity is in the future but not ready for prime time. Resources needed to develop interactive sites are extensive. Again, technology useful for providing routine instructional services and that in person would continue to address more complicated and complex instructional needs.

Marketing of online instruction an issue. How to let users know these resources exist and how to find them.

Online instruction must be exciting as the level of web based resources gets more sophisticated. For a user, particularly an undergraduate, to sitdown with an instructional tool-must be exciting. According to a survey completed at MIT several years ago, users want information online.

Who does the development? Librarians, student assistants with varying degrees of web development skills, web advisory group.

What are the issues related to providing and supporting in person and long distance user instruction?

Support for formats. Changing role of librarianship-pedagogy, technical support and training for development and maintenance of online tutorials and the level of sophistication varies.

Where will we be in 10 years?

We didn't reach a conclusion on this one but overall importance of providing in person instruction would not go away. Technology may help with freeing up librarian's time to work on other things but in person instruction would be necessary for subject specific and more complex issues.

Does each institution need to reinvent the wheel?

What things could we do together. Consensus that basic skill sets could be shared and that we could work together on creating a basic module but consider subject and course specific in house needs could not be avoided. Mention of associations already sharing this type of work such as government librarians associations.

--Nancy Friedland

D. Reference Collection Development

Section 1 - Eileen McIlvaine, Facilitator; Paula Gabbard, Recorder

1) Internet resources: from selection to adding them to the library web
Johns Hopkins is designing a tracking component that will send e-mail to selectors or to others to inform them of all movements through the workflow. Up to now, they have identified 95 fields needed in the entire process. Several institutions have hired Electronic Database Librarians who monitor the workflow, coordinate deals with publishers (except for contract negotiations), and get resources on the web. As one librarian remarked, this person is overwhelmed, but it is better than having no one at all.

At Cornell web resources including full text materials can be found via the on-line catalog as well as through their web search site that allows searching by keyword (searching words in the title, the descriptive paragraph, and subject headings) and by format (full text, index, etc.). Most libraries represented by those present are currently trying to catalog web resources and full text journals. A colleague noted that a problem he sees with databases on the web is that the locally produced "About" statements are often out of date. Another colleague mentioned that changing from one service to another creates user frustration regardless of how much improved the quality is from the older service. Many libraries are considering the idea of "branding" their resources-that is, they would try to insert banners on all web resources to indicate that the resources are each made possible by the Libraries.

2) Weeding and Cancellation of multiple formats
Those attending agreed when one colleague said that as a result of renovations there is often tremendous pressure to downsize reference stacks, which is particularly tragic in history and the humanities. Yale's renovation to its Reference Department did not result in reduced stack space, and as a result, the Department is used more than it ever was.

Several institutions have an application process for new Internet resources in which they must identify if the service is available in another format. Usually all or nearly all other subscriptions to redundant Internet resources are cancelled. All paper versions of JSTOR titles are being weeded at Rutgers because of space.

3) Timely evaluation tools for reference materials
One colleague noted that she looks forward to very detailed use statistics of internet resources. Another colleague said that he solicited opinions of faculty in evaluating new databases on trial subscriptions. Otherwise, there is a real lack of timely review resources for general reference materials.

--Paula Gabbard