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Virtual Reference Services

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  1. Virtual Reference Services Stephen D. Coffman, Vice President Public Library Operations/East Library Systems and Services, LLC

  2. ARL Reference Statistics Reference Meets the Web DOWN 42.1% 1997-2003

  3. Commercial Reference ServicesThe Other Threat From the Web

  4. In the electronic environment, a point-of-need reference service needs to be built into the infrastructure of the Internet--ideally on the browser, or as a constant source on specific sites--and must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. .... When users click on the "live consultation" option, they are asked to enter their question in an Ask Jeeves-type natural-language search engine, which returns some results from among a collection of librarian-chosen web sites. If the searcher is satisfied, the transaction ends there. If not, he clicks on a "Click To Talk to a Librarian" button and there appears a live person (via, say, CuSeeMe or Netmeeting interactive software) or a text box (using, for example, MOO, Chat, or WOO technology) for real-time chat. The librarian, who has before her the client's failed search-engine effort, negotiates the real question and either answers it directly or does some follow-up work and gets back to the client via e-mail, FAX, etc.   "  

  5. What Made VR So Appealing? • Did offer a possible solution to a decline that was worrying us • We had the example of the commercial reference services like Webhelp that were using the technology … proving so it seemed that people loved it • Automatically made anybody who used it ‘waaaay cool’

  6. Books, Articles and Conferences Oh My!

  7. Pretty Soon VR Was Everywhere

  8. 1999 Univ. North Texas Cornell Temple SUNY Morrisonville Total = 4 or 5 2004 Questionpoint 1000 Tutor/LSSI 1000 24/7 1000 Docutek 300? LivePerson Groopz 60 Rakim IM Total = 3000+ Growth of Libraries with Chat

  9. How It Works

  10. Co-Browsing Technology Librarian’s Browser Go to url: Patron’s Browser • URL pushing • Two-way (librarian to patron and patron to librarian) • Send page or escort mode ( can be toggled on and off) • Form sharing (text in search boxes can be shared) • Works with many computers • Talk via chat • Produces transcript of session including chat and pages shared

  11. Unfortunately Our Patrons Were Not As Enthusiastic As We Were

  12. Joe Janes Global Census Nov 03 Median = 6 questions per day “Global Census of Digital Reference” Joseph Janes Proceedings of VRD 2003 http://www.vrd2003.org/proceedings/presentation.cfm?PID=162

  13. UCLA Down 77.6%

  14. Santa Monica Public Library

  15. Not Just Us

  16. Profession Losing Interest • Sales of VR off substantially • Many vendors failed or been absorbed • OCLC currently in the midst of research on the ‘viability’ of VR • Some services have quietly folded their tents • The major conference has been discontinued Discontinued

  17. Legacy of VR • Transcripts allowed us to track and analyze the reference process as never before • Allowed libraries to collaborate on reference in ways that would have been impossible before • Allowed librarians from different institutions, subject specialties and even continents to work together

  18. Also Leaves Us With Some Unresolved Questions? • Death of most commercial reference • Limited ‘success’ of Google Answers • Low use of email reference • Low use of chat

  19. 1. Do We Really Need VR? • “Just need to market it better” • “It’s all reference”, VR just another method of contacting the library • Assuming that patrons do want help online, is chat and VR the best way to give it to them?

  20. 2. If Not VR - What Is Reference In the Age of Google? • Books • Help for those who choose not to use Google • Help when Google fails • Help when you need more than Google

  21. 3. What’s Most Cost Effective Way of Providing It?

  22. Traditional Reference Is Expensive $54,525,849 Amount Illinois Public Libraries Spent on Books in 2002 $57,380,232 Amount Illinois Public Libraries Spend on Reference Librarians in 2002 Median Hourly Wage Illinois Reference Librarian with Benefits = $27.95 Median Reference Salary with Benefits = $58,136 987 FTE Reference Librarians @ $58,136 = $57,380,232 Illinois Public Library Statistics – 2002

  23. Yet Few People Use It

  24. Even Worse, Nationally • National Statistics (NCES) • 20% or 1 in 5 patrons asks a question • 1.1 reference questions per capita • 6.8 items circulated per capita • Illinois Public Library Statistics • 26.5% or 1 in 4 asks a question • 1.2 reference questions per capita • 7.9 items circulated per capita

  25. Re-Examine Staffing 5600 books at Cornell avg salary plus benefits = $87,859.2 2341 books In the rest of the county avg salary plus benefits = = $36,738 =

  26. Average Hourly Cost of Operations Library vs Bookstore 72 hours per week 96 hours per week

  27. So Are There More Cost Effective Methods Than This?

  28. Build Reference Into Our Machines

  29. Call Center