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Collabortive Virtual Reference Symposium : Joe Janes, Keynote Speaker

Welcome from:
Kris Johnson – Colorado State VR Service
Eugene Hainer – Director, Colorado State Library

Joe Janes – Keynote speaker (get link)
“Why Collaborate?”
point of branch public libraries is that they’re w/in walking distance of wherever you are, they’re so important they’re everywhere.
The main branch, the new Seattle pl is grandiose, shows it’s importance
Grand reading room at UWash, statement that they’re “holy” places
Reference desk, picture of one in 1905, looks very similar to today

What is reference?
Readers need great deal of assistance
Direct personal aid w/in a library – Margaret Hutchins

Where reference has been
Green(1876) we do reference because there’s too much stuff and it’s hard to find
Help w database searching, be pleasant, don’t talk about legal medical advise

Reference is in transition
As the information environment changes
-continually evolving techologgies, aloowing/fostering increased self-investigation
-constrained $, competitive and volatile information marketplace (publisher and consumer)
-increased focus on privacy and intellectual freedom
-perceptions of libraries and librarians, increasing marginalization
-changes society
-more people doing more searches on their own – huge win for us
-information marketplace is considerably more competitive and volitive
-you have fewer people owning more and more and then there are all this free stuff, have to stay on top of it all
-our biggest enemy is indifference

-you can do better searching today than 10 years ago. Prior to that you had to physically stand up and move to the information. Now it’s at your laptop

-this is the information environment we are living in and reference has to live in this as well

what we are best at
our traditional strengths
-service orientation – we’re really good at helping people understand what they need
-determining needs & understanding context
-multiple modes of searching

-evaluation of resources
-when to stop
-education about the process – even when they don’t care
-tool-making - pathfinders
go with, build on these, in the library that is now

what is reference for?
A better question
The circumstances which gave rise to it (in the old days – 1890’s-ish)
-increased number, variety of information resources
-increase in complexity of those resources – the concept of a library catalog is becoming more complex
-it’s harder to find information w/in those resources – difficult to identify the resources you need and then the info w/in them
-increase in number & diversity of people using libraries – wider range of needs, enquireies, sophistication in searching

what is reference for? (ca 1935)
a new technology that widens access to the library
telephone – raised lots of issues/Qs
-important v less important questions, people
-centralized or dispersed?
-policies
-dedicated information resources?
-different levels of service

Collaboration: the old days
“one great library” (ALA: Eliot 1902, Gould 1909) largely around collections, scarce books, regional/national libraries
-why don’t we have one large library that everyone can draw one
-efficient and economic, but also…. – this was their argument
-more stuff to more people
-combination & organization are “watchwords of the day” & we can’t be left behind
-supplement, not replace, local libraries – fear that anything above the local level will overtake us
-open stacks were bad service model – people will browse and might find the wrong info

Wyer (1930) quote –“…it may be better if books traveled less and people traveled more…”
-regarding records & catalogs but also service
-services like this provide training and vision opportunities

1940s Wilson Bulletin had a feature on “Fugitives” – Qs submitted and answered by readers
-expanded into cooperative project by the Peabody Library School (Nashville PL) where students answered Qs to gain experience and to help smaller libraries
-weakness: emphasis on very unusual questions and not enough on questions which….

Margaret Hutchins (1944) “it is frequently the custom” to exchange reference services in larger cities
-asking for help from another library is a delicate matter requiring tact – ask a favor, not a right
- should the inquirer or librarian ask the “new” library for help?
-isolated or ongoing project?
-can inquirer write an intelligible letter?
-does the library budget permit correspondence?
-is therea relationship between the libraries?
-she’s already thinking in a prelim. Way how these services can be developed

Old arguments for collaboration
-efficiency and economy first, last and foremost – we are better off together
-speed
-clarity
-vision– this opens up the notion what library service is, what it’s for
-training & education
-quality (but only obliquely, implicitly) – didn’t really come up
how do these arguments hold up today?
Efficiency, training kind of a given
Vision – you can not do this and not get the vision, we are all better of together, we get this
Speed, clarity, quality
– collaboration has got to make it better – collaborative value
-can speed be part of that equation? – collaboration in any flavor implies time, regardless of mode (email, phone, chat, FTF)
-implies that the pressure of time will always be there
-implies that people have to wait, maybe 5-10 mins. Or maybe several days – people have to be willing to endure it – unless we acknowledge and build on that willingness as a focus
-one way collaboration will buy you time is if you focus on needs and inquirers – possible focal point for collab. Service
can collab. Services help with clarity? – collaborative value
“improving the question” - how can a caollaborative service per se do that, without appearing redundant, feckless or frustrating?
-who does the interview and how does it move forward?
-how do we improve clarity in a collab. Environment w/out looking/sounding like idiots? – don’t know, need to figure this out
Quality – collab. Value
-chance to show off our collective resources, yes, to provide higher quality responses…but also a chance to show off our skills, can only do that with deeper, more meaningful Qs
-show off how good you are – can only do this w deep, meaningful Qs
-deep, meaningful, hard

Collabortive value – today
-contemporary collab. Services also get us ubiquity of time and place
-increased service, yes
-bus also increased vision of what a service is and can be, both for them and for us
-when you provide a 24/7 service, you are explicitly making the argument that your library is a big deal, whenever, wherever you are – powerful statement
-vision argument both for them and us
-everytime someone says “I didn’t know a library could do that” we get bigger, and it grows in their minds, and we will stay in their minds
-ubiquity is a vision argument, and what ubiquity represents and it’s a reflection of the information environment
-that’s the info environment of today
-the more ubiquitous of the service the bigger the argument

any collab. Service has to be better, save time, foster better questions and provide better resonses
-has to provide a better experience for them and for us

we do such a great job in person…
-we have to do a better job online – service we provide online has got to be better than in person
-when someone engages w us digitally it is so much easier for them to leave, so the level of service we provide has to be across the board superior – and collab. Services have to be better

Thus a collab. Service (online) has to be one of the very best services a library offers – if you offer a crappy service they will go away and never come back

Margaret Hutchins – reference saves the money of individuals, save the time of busy people and ensures possession of facts which by themselves they could not obtain – 1944
-we can provide service to people that they can not have any other way

Quality, vision, clarity, ubiquity – this is why we collaborate
Betsy Wilson – “Vision is a rutter for change”

Q: a lot of research shows online questions to be ready reference
A: definition of ready reference, ready ref will always be w us, I can’t imagine that’s the point, if we were going to pick a niche to focus on that wouldn’t be it, let’s pick a niche that we can shine, things that matter to people

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