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ALA Program - Best Practices in Virtual Reference

Sat. July 11

VR Best Practices

Lynn Conaway-Sillipigni; Marie Radford
Seeking Synchronicity Research Project

Focus: Online & Telephone Surveys

VRS Users: What's Hot
Word of Mouth
Of the NetGen's 100% said they would recommend it to their friends
48% said they already have

Give Me the Facts
-answer the question

Be On Target
-be quick
-be convenient!!!
Know Your Stuff - they value subject matter, willing to wait for a subject specialist
Low tolerance for inaccurate information

Be Personable
-be friendly
-if you can't find the info offer to get back with them, follow up is ok and appreciated

What's Not (Hot)
Negative Closure

Did you already check the catalog? - found that users will abruptly end if asked this question. Need to ask in a different way - Where have you already checked?

Grumpy Librarians
-librarians seeming unconcerned and not willing to continue the conversation, had the feeling the librarian was ignoring me

-be politely, friendly and engage with patrons

VRS Staff/Librarians: What's Hot
Leveraging Complex & Specialized Knowledge
-with vr we are able to better leverage our knowledge and delegate (follow ups)

Information access to remote users
-many librarians find it easier to instruct via this method, many users find face-to-face instruction better
-if the user wants to know where/how you found something then that is the teachable moment

Positive Feedback
-many times we are looking for the user to give us something back

Tell Me More
-users are willing to engage in extra conversation of research

Morphing Modes
-using vr as the starting point and morphing into other modes such as email or phone or face-to-face
-going the extra step to make them a satisfied customer

What's Not (Hot)
Convoluted or Confusing Questions
-not able to meet the patron's exact need
-it's ok to say this might take a little more time to find...
-let them know if the question needs subject expert

Imposed Queries

Co-Browsing & Other Pesky Software
Co-browsing doesn't work, can make the interaction frustrating and difficult to help patron

Grumpy Users
-try to depersonalize, if you think of it as the person already upset before coming it can help

Unrealistic Expectations
-users have different expectations than what we can deliver
-millenials trust online more than print (sometimes)

Disappearing Users
-why did they go away?

What we learned
Vrs users want:
-access to electronic resources
vrs librarians want:
-clear questions
-query clarification
-positive user attitude
-resolved interactions

What we can do
-convenient authoritative, reliable services
-accurate information
-positive attitude

-slides on the seeking synchronicity website

Natalie Tagge - IL AskAway Coordinator - What do you do when you lose funding?

In the beginning... there was a grant
What happens when the grant money goes away?
-IL does not have statewide access anymore.
-have done a consortial purchase to make it cheaper for libraries to continue
-as of July 1, 2009, Natalie is no longer the coordinator, no coordinator

what are the basics?
Quality and Sustainability

Quality of the service - you need to have people coming back

-core group of over 200 libraries
-support of IL State Library
-statewide vr advisory board

-still have the support of IL State Library, just no funding
-vr advisory board now meeting when necessary instead of once monthly
-moved to a more participatory web presence - now using webjunction:
http://www.askawayillinois.info/ > http://il.webjunction.org/863

Quality = Training
Librarians need varying levels of training
-trying to make the training as accessible as possible
-in-person training is really helpful, especially with newbies
-now they are doing it online and it's more like a radio show

-make sure to train on the basics

Define your basics
-policy page/link up on website (access via local libraries website)
-answer a chat question
-ask them if they need more information
-use the person's name
Follow Up
-answer follow up questions

AskAway basic training
-IL State Library Wimba room
-chat practice queue
-screencast (Jing)
(free resources)

Extras: AskAway IL, AskAway WI, and AskMN monthly best practices sessions - helpful for librarians to network, communicate, guest speakers

Other Challenges
Growth & Support

Who is there to market the service? word of mouth still works on both end

Support is an issue for technical support but QP is/will be picking up the slack

Statewide service effect on question quantity
Jan '08 - May '08: 12,872 questions
Jan '09 - May '08 11, 500
Anticapated a bigger decrease but only had a 9% decrease.
Why not more?
Zipcode on form wasn't required before but now they need to put in actual zipcode to be routed to a participating library.
No statewide marketing - when the service worked, it worked on a local library level. They weren't/aren't thinking about a state library but were/are thinking of their local or school librarian.
-it would have been a harder transition if their service wasn't so local based.

Q & A time:
Q: What are good characteristics to look for in picking/training librarians for vr service?
A: The same characteristics that you would look for for a desk ref librarian. Someone that has a good report. Be yourself online, relax into it. We have found 2 huge items that boost accuracy: clarify the question and ask if you have answered their question
-our research has found that time constraints aren't as bad as librarians think, just stay in touch with patrons

Q: Are library schools addressing this?
A: Yes, some library schools do, some have, like, reference part 2 dealing with chat. There is a library school partnership with QP using it in the classroom (missed the school)

Q: Do you have any sense of how many consortia are looking in next five years for funding.
A: Some states are facing grants ending or have already ended.
Q: What should consortia do to prepare?
A: You need to have a lot of meetings to map things out, be aggressive to get names of people responsible for advocating, continue fighting for funding, continued support

Q: ?
A: (NT) We had a pricing model for first three years, managed price for libraries. Built into culture that this is going to cost you to participate. Grant subsidized, for the most part, after first near. If you have folks pay something for it, it has more value and they want to support it more. We started planning the fiscal budget more than a year before it ended to make sure libraries could adjust to it.

Q: About the abrupt disconnect - do you like it's because the user has realized they need to put some effort in the answer? Do you have any info/study about why the disconnect?
A: There is someone working on this. Finding when asked "Have you already tried 'X'?" they leave. Beyond that, don't know, could be their battery died, they had to leave. When you push out a page to them they think that's the answer and then they're gone, tell them you're searching and wait for the best page! - This is counter to what most librarians have been doing. The question "What have you already done?" can evoke guilt and shame.

(NT) I use the skills I had from when I was a waitress more for vr service than I do over what I learned in library school.

Q: Users said they were willing to wait for a specific answer - what did you mean by that? Timeframe.
A: People are will to wait, as far as timeframe, it's situational. We have also have seen with email, I can email that info to you tomorrow will that be ok? Users are ok with that. We still think that if we don't get them something in the next 5 minutes they won't wait. They will, just be up front about type of question, when you're getting back (15 minutes or 1 day or longer).

Procedural questions, when trying to answer a procedural question for a library other than your own take the longest time.

Q: Is giving them a phone number for follow up/referral ok?
A: It's situational. If they can connect with a live person that's friendly, or you call them is helpful. It also goes both ways - would it work for you if you can call?

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