Tag Archives: virtual reference

8: accurate reference service #blogjune

[I have no idea why this didn’t post yesterday as it was meant to.]

The “55 percent rule” – that unobtrusive studies tend to show a 55% success rate of librarians answering reference queries fully and accurately – seems to have been written about most in the mid/late-1980s so my quick-and-dirty Google Scholar search isn’t bringing up much handy full-text to link to. (Some, but closed access and gigantic files that freeze my computer for a minute so needn’t be inflicted on anyone else. Who decided to scan black-and-white Library Journal articles in as colour???) Anyway, my quick-and-dirty impression of the literature thus surveyed is that the number was so shocking that it prompted vast flurries of a) studies to try and replicate/refute the results, and b) studies to say that users don’t care about full and accurate answers anyway.

I have a different response, inspired by today’s date, which is: If the reference service we’re providing is so incomplete and inaccurate, why not save our time/salaries and just hand users a Magic 8-Ball instead?

[NB: This post is not guaranteed to be more than 55% indicative of the actual definition of the rule nor the state of the literature, but it is at least 55% flippant. What I actually think is that we should be developing clever chatbots to staff our virtual reference service. Or at least 55% of it.]

Links of interest 7/4/2011 – reference and webdesign

A bit of fun: Book Sculptures

College & Research Libraries (C&RL) will become an open access publication beginning with the May 2011 issue.

Citation Management Software: Features and Futures (RUSQ) compares RefWorks, EndNote, and Zotero from both a user and librarian perspective.

Reference and virtual reference
Search for the answer, not the question – “Assume the answer to your question is out there, and think about how the answer might have been written.” I’ve been teaching students something like this, focusing on thinking about who would have written about something and where they would have published.

“Are We Getting Warmer?”: Query Clarification in Live Chat Virtual Reference (RUSQ)
“Results indicate that accuracy was enhanced for librarians who used clarifying questions in answering ready reference (factual) questions.”

Mu, X., Dimitroffa, A., Jordana, J., and Burclaffa, N. A Survey and Empirical Study of Virtual Reference Service in Academic Libraries The Journal of Academic Librarianship 37(2) pp. 120-129.
“Virtual Reference Services (VRS) have high user satisfaction. The main problem is its low usage. We surveyed 100 academic library web sites to understand how VRS are presented. We then conducted a usability study to further test an active VRS model regarding its effectiveness.”

Website usability
One-Pager is a simple, mobile-friendly, user-friendly “library website template that allows your patrons to find what they want” – described elsewhere as a solution to messy library websites.

A couple of papers from Computers in Libraries are reported:

Reference / Info-literacy links of interest 21/4/10

Singer, Carol A. (2010) Ready Reference Collections: A History. RUSQ 49(3)
Ready reference collections were originally formed, and still exist, because they perform a valuable function in providing convenient access to information that is frequently used at the reference desk. As library collections have been transformed from print to electronic, some of the materials in these collections also have inevitably been replaced by electronic resources. This article explores the historical roots of ready reference collections and their recent evolution.

A post on the Oregon Libraries Network notes some differences between the old and new RUSA Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services.

Library instruction classes
A Librarian’s Guide to Etiquette suggests: A librarian should begin each library instruction class by plucking headphones from students’ ears, confiscating cell phones, and searching all bookbags for contraband food. If there is any time remaining, show them all how to become fans of the library’s new Facebook page.

In Getting Students to Do the Reading: Pre-Class Quizzes on WordPress (at the Chronicle of Higher Education) Derek Bruff cites the idea that learning involves both transfer of information and assimilation of that information, and that as the assimilation is the hard part it should be done in class time while the transfer is handled before class through readings (or videos). He then discusses how he’s tackled the problem of motivating students to actually do their pre-class readings by creating pre-class quizzes — the answers to which he can then skim before class, and alter his lesson plan if students are finding some topic easier or harder than anticipated.

In the Library with the Lead Pipe is a group blog that posts longer, heavily referenced articles. In Making it their idea: The Learning Cycle in library instruction Eric Frierson quotes the idea that people learn better by putting the pieces together for themselves, and discusses ways to use this in library instruction classes, using the topic of “peer reviewed journals” as a case study.

Steve Lawson blogs about Making time at the beginning for questions – starting a library class with the projector off and just chatting informally with the students about their assignments/projects – he says, “It’s like a mass reference interview.”

For myself, I’ve had a lot of success with adding more interactivity into classes (even some large ones with 250+ students) but one series of my classes in term 1 turned clunky because (as I discovered too late) when I was chatting with students about what they needed to know for their assignment, none of them bothered to mention that they hadn’t actually read the assignment instructions yet.

So for my next class I started off by asking them to explain the assignment to me – fortunately these ones had read it and could talk about it, but my fall-back position would be to stop and give them five minutes to read it, because they’re not going to learn anything in class if they don’t know why they’re being told about it.

I spent the rest of the class alternating between asking them how they go about research and adding other sources/techniques they can use. The students were awesome and the class went like a dream. I used a PowerPoint presentation in edit mode so when I asked a question I could write their answers onto the blank page – colour-coded with white pages for my set-speech stuff, yellow pages for their stuff (and my very occasional additions when they reminded me of something) – and embed it into their subject guide after the class:

What about you: what other techniques have you read about / tried for library tutorials?

Links of interest 13/1/10

Web collaboration

  • Tinychat lets you instantly set up a temporary chatroom with its own short url you can share with anyone you want to join you. Once everyone has left the chat it disappears.
  • Flockdraw does the same for the virtual whiteboard.

Virtual reference



Here, there and virtually everywhere

library services for distance learners
Anne Ferrier-Watson
abstract (pdf)

[Argh, network cut out in this room.]

History of Virtual Education Reference Desk (VERD)
1997 – BTeaching started distance services
2000 – need to streamline processes so VERD was created
2008(?) – Moodle has taken VERD to a new level

Philosophy to “give students the fishing line, not the fish”
Over 3000 education students are enrolled in online papers

1.75 EFTS supporting VERD. Busier at some times than others.

Asynchronous service – answering Monday to Friday. Many questions asked have been answered before so they’ve got an ongoing work in progress of making previous answers easy to find

5 sections:

  • Request items or information (can fill out a webmail form or ask for help on forums – 7500 views in the last 12 months)
  • Library FAQs (started as answers to easy common queries; now starting to use it for standard answers for more complex questions too)
  • Help with APA referencing (“our favourite section” – laughter – 2500 views in semester B – a few pdf guides and a link to the forums too)
  • Catalogue guides (not high use – many just use it for the link to the library catalogue; starting to think of putting in video tutorials)
  • Guide to finding journal articles (high use – includes videos for using ebsco, proquest, indexNZ; also pdf guides to various databases)

Jing screen capture software – easy to use, free-as-in-beer but not open source.

Feedback from students includes:
“The video instruction is fantastic too as I find it easier to do something if I see it in action.”
“now if I forget a step I can use [the online tutorials] to find the right path again”
“you are like the referencing angel”

Can look at individual activity reports so when someone asks a question you can see where they’ve already looked for help.

Can look at overall activity reports to give an idea of where most activity is happening and most work is best spent.

Q: What’s providing the format?
A: Working around the Moodle format. Not actually a fan about the format but it’s the best they can do.
Suggestion: Worked with McGovern to create ManyAnswers.co.nz which can be put on your own website. (Me: ? Not sure whether she meant the whole manyanswers service or the platform to support your own FAQ.)

Q: Forums available to all students or just distance?
A: Available to those enrolled in those papers.

Q: Are guides available on public site or just private forums?
A: Some static guides (not interactive) are available on the public website. Looking at redeveloping some of this too.

Q: re answering repeat questions
A: Some refer back to previous answers, some move them into FAQs and refer there.

Links of interest 25/9/09

LibLime, an organisation which sells support to the New Zealand-developed open-source library system Koha, has recently announced changes to their practices that are technically legal but many feel don’t abide by the spirit of the open-source license. Library Journal has a basic summary of events with links to key discussions.

A libarian gets a marriage proposal on Ask a Librarian.

Customer service
Being at the point of need discusses placing screencasts, chat widgets, and other tutorials in the catalogue, subject guides, and databases.

Chalk notes as a valid communication format is a library manager’s blogpost about her response to chalk-on-pavement comments about the library. Her follow-up on chalk notes addresses the issue of communication within the library about public responses like this.

Tracking ILL Requests is a “wouldn’t it be neat if” post about providing more information on ILL requests to users.

The APA has an APA Style Blog with all sorts of handy tips.

10 free Google Custom Search Engines for librarians

5 sites with free video lectures from top colleges

Links of Interest 26/8/09

University of Otago Law Library has a new blog to go with their new library.

Massey University Library have added book ratings to their catalogue – when logged in, your ratings show in yellow; when logged out, average ratings show in blue.

Westlaw have annoyed librarians everywhere with an ad that “Are you on a first name basis with the librarian? If so, chances are, you’re spending too much time at the library. What you need is fast, reliable research you can access right in your office. And all it takes is West®.” They have since apologised.

Useful sites
A Digital Outrigger is a blog covering issues in digital libraries and usability – it posts regular link roundups and is well tagged to allow focusing on specific areas of interest.

The JISC Academic Database Assessment Tool lets you compare journal title lists, databases, and ebook platforms.

Heard of Project Gutenberg but don’t have time to read all its books? Now Project Twutenberg aims to convert each of these books into a 140-character summary.

Food for thought
After a presentation on Digital Reference, some librarians have started talking about the emerging trend towards the real-time web and the real-time library. David Lee King points out, “remove all the 2.0, digital, online stuff from this idea, and we’re simply talking about the real, physical, day-to-day experience of a normal (yet very good) library. Emerging online services are working to make this normal, active experience we have at the physical library the same when we’re online.

Links of interest 3/6/09

Gateway to Scientific Data from the Canadian government.

Emerald Management Reviews Citations of Excellence Top 50 papers

The first time Europeana (a digital library funded by the European Commission) launched so many people visited that it promptly crashed. This time it seems to be stable and is very nice to browse.

Musopen “is an online music library of copyright free (public domain) music.” (Project Gutenberg and Mutopia also have sheet music; Gutenberg also has music recordings, moving pictures, etc.)

Have you ever used Tinyurl to make a short link for a long url? Now Krunchd gives you a short link for a collection of urls.

David Lee King writes about embedding a link to their virtual reference in their HIP catalogue (including on their Search Results page).

Stephen Abram writes about how phrasing on signage can increase compliance.