"To Chat or Not To Chat" – 503 Article Review

In our “503 –
Reference Sources & Services” class, each week a few students have
signed up to send around a summary of the readings for that week's
class.  I'm not sure if this is the purpose but it's a great idea
for those weeks when you don't get to assigned readings yourself. 

I was up this week and so here's my summary of this week's article:

To Chat or Not To Chat: Taking Another Look At Virtual Reference

Steve Coffman & Linda Arret

Summary by: Jason Hammond

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the development of
virtual reference services in libraries from 2000 to 2004.  Based on
their bios at the end of the article, you would expect the authors to be
very pro-virtual reference but they sound a cautionary note, claiming
that at least to this point (in 2004 or perhaps before as the article
may have been written long before it was published) virtual reference
has proven to be costly, time-consuming and ineffective, especially
compared to traditional methods (phone, in-person.)

My own take is that it's an unfair comparison – “Internet time” is
faster than real time but things don't spring fully formed either – the
telephone has been around for over one hundred years and talking to
people to exchange information for tens of thousands.  Still, it would
be interesting to see if the numbers for VR have continued to decrease,
stayed static or begun to improve again, since this study in 2004.

I had a discussion around this very topic with a classmate today.  I
don't think virtual reference is a passing fad and we both wondered if
the MLIS program is doing enough to prepare us for the technology that's
increasingly being used in librarians (blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS
feeds, etc.) not just today but what will be in use a year or two from
now when we're out in the “real” world.  So far, the answer feels like

My summary ends there but here are some links if you're interested:

Discussion of the Second Part of this Article


Top Technology Trends for Librarians 2005

– this article is already a year old but it still has some timely stuff
in it.  If you don't recognize
*any* of the terms being discussed, come
see me, stat!



– could a community-based reference service, drawing not just on
reference librarians but also on the expertise and opinions of patrons
work in a library setting?  This site, although not tied to a specific
library (but frequented
*by* librarians) is an example of how that might
be accomplished:




Comments 1

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Yes, 'telephone reference does not work' – sorry it's now 'VR does not work' and the conclusive proof is…some places tried it and they had a bad trip. Amazing how some people cling to practices that don't meet the needs of many of their clients. VR has been around for a long time – I used it to support people in multiple locations over 10 years ago but then libraries are rarely leading. They are finally awakening (slowly) to the digital world 20 years late….Gord Nickerson

    Posted 30 Mar 2006 at 11:17 pm

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