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Virtual Reference Desk Conference

Orlando, FL November 11-14, 2001

Shaun Adamson

Thank you for the opportunity to attend the 3rd annual Virtual Reference Desk Conference in Orlando. This conference was a valuable source of information on digital reference issues. These sessions greatly enhanced my understanding and awareness of digital reference technologies.

Most of the general sessions centered around either email or real-time chat-based reference. These sessions touched on the legal, ethical, policy, staffing and marketing issues involved in managing DR services. The conference also addressed the development of quality criteria and technology standards for DR services. Most of the sessions I attended focused on various issues such as marketing DR services, training and skills required of DR participants, the advantages and disadvantages of DR, assessment of DR service, and users' feelings about DR. In addition to the regular conference agenda, I also had the opportunity to attend both pre- and post-conference workshops. The pre-conference workshop was titled "Measuring and Assessing the Quality of Digital Reference Services," and the second workshop, "Building a Real-Time Reference Service". In addition to the many sessions focusing on DR issues, I also attended an interesting presentation from the 'student paper competition winner' entitled "User-Centered Reference Services: Usability in Academic Library E-Reference Sites". This University of Texas graduate student looked at e-reference sites from various academic institutions (one of them was USU!) and had some good suggestions regarding the appearance, accessibility, and guidelines for e-reference services. I will share these observations with members of the Usability and WAG committees so these factors may be taken into consideration during the Library Web site redesign.

It was interesting to note what others around the country were doing regarding DR services. Virtually all of the conference participants were from either academic or public libraries. At one of the workshops I attended, most indicated with a show of hands that they had either recently implemented or had been doing email reference for quite some time. Most of these persons were currently looking to implement real-time chat services, which is about where we are at here at WSU.

There was brief mention at a couple of sessions of more sophisticated tools such as VOIP (voice over IP- allows users to 'talk' to librarians- most people do not have the voice receiver necessary to use it) and video conferencing via web cams, etc. Although these technologies are currently available, most users do not have the hardware necessary to implement them. It is important to note, however, that as these new technologies improve and become standard, email and chat reference may become obsolete.

Some of the more common real-time reference products included 24-7 (http://www.247ref.org/), LSSI Virtual (http://www.virtualreference.net/virtual/), Live Person (http://www.liveperson.com/), LiveAssistance (http://www.liveassistance.com/features.html), Convey Systems (http://www.conveysystems.com/), and LiveHelper (http://www.livehelper.com/). Duke University has put out a great evaluation and comparison of these tools on their Web site: http://www.lib.duke.edu/reference/liveonlineref.htm#EvaluationThe only product missing from this list that was included in the conference handouts was 24/7 Reference.

 

Updated October 6, 2004 . Please send comments to John Lamborn
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