Going Live: Starting and Running a Virtual Reference Service

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If your customers don't sleep, why should your reference service? Online library reference services available 24/7 are offered in a growing number of institutions. With many models to choose from and more details to be worked out, it is a critical time for librarians to assess their patrons' needs and market their services to address these needs.

Collecting and documenting what thousands of virtual reference librarians have learned over the past few years, this comprehensive guide provides a needed overview to help new and aspiring virtual reference library departments—and their directors and administrators, reference librarians, and project managers—to understand the entire process and its ramifications. Here are the basics of designing, implementing, operating, and marketing a virtual reference service from the ground up.

In a text supplemented with checklists so no key element is forgotten, this reference offers the real-world answers from leading experts to the most common questions:

  • Where has Web-based library reference come from and where is it going?
  • What is the best digital reference software to address specific needs?
  • Who should staff the virtual reference desktop? How do they get hired and trained?
  • When and how does a library market such a radical new service?
  • Why are evaluations and system enhancements critical to the future of digital reference?

With a look into the costs, and a look into the future, supplemented with the most comprehensive bibliography available on the topic, Going Live is a one-stop resource for getting started in digital reference services.

Chapter 1: Reference: The First One Hundred Years
Chapter 2: Getting Started: Designing Virtual Reference Systems
Chapter 3: Managing Virtual Reference Services
Chapter 4: Marketing Virtual Reference Services
Chapter 5: Where Do We Go from Here?
A: Software Feature Checklist
B: Sample Pre-employment Screening Test and Key
Virtual Reference Services Bibliography
by Bernie Sloan

Steve Coffman

Steve Coffman is the Vice President for Product Development with LSSI (Library Systems and Services Inc.), a feisty band of librarians that provide professional library services to a wide variety of institutions including the Office of Veterans Affairs, Washington DC; Riverside County Library, Riverside, CA; Lancaster Library, Lancaster TX, Calabasas Library, Calabasas, CA; Hemet Library, Hemet, CA; Chatham College, Pittsburgh, PA, and many more.

Michelle Fiander

Michelle Fiander has an MLS and MA in Literature from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, her home town. After a Librarian Internship at the Kellogg Health Sciences Library, Dalhousie University, she took a position as Cataloger and Reference Librarian at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick. Two years later she accepted a position at IUPUI (Indianapolis University Purdue University, Indianapolis) as a Cataloger and Reference Librarian. During her three years there, Michelle moved more towards reference work and became interested in virtual reference services and technology. This interest culminated in a decision to move from the academic library arena to a position with LSSI where she developed and currently manages the Web Reference Center.

Kay Henshall

Kay Henshall is currently the Chief Trainer for the Virtual Reference ToolKit at LSSI. She provides training workshops in virtual reference, including the development of the materials and curriculum, to public, academic and special libraries all over the world. Over the past several years, Kay has trained several thousand virtual reference librarians in more than one hundred virtual reference projects. Her experience has provided her with an unparalleled opportunity to see how all kinds of libraries are incorporating live virtual reference into their array of services.

Bernie Sloan

Bernie Sloan has studied electronic reference services for nearly five years, first with e-mail reference services, and then with live chat-based reference services. He has published several articles on digital reference services. One of these articles (Electronic Reference Services: Some Suggested Guidelines, Reference and User Services Quarterly 38:77–81, Summer 1998) is being used by the Standards & Guidelines Committee of ALA's Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) as a basis for developing formal guidelines for the support of digital reference services. He also maintains a bibliography on digital reference services at www.lis.uiuc.edu/~b-sloan/digiref.html. Bernie began his professional career as a reference librarian in public libraries and cooperative library systems. More recently, he served as the evaluation consultant for the "Ready for Reference" project, a live 24/7 reference service pilot offered by eight libraries in the Alliance Library System in Illinois.

"...includes an overview of many questions that need to be answered when providing real-time, online reference service."

"...explains how to design, implement, operate, and market the service."
—American Libraries

"The chapters cover what librarians will need to know to design, manage, market, and evaluate such programs...you would not go wrong with this one."
—Library Journal

"Going Live: Starting & Running a Virtual Reference Service Coffman explains how to design, implement, operate, and market the service and also includes handy checklists. If the patrons aren't coming into the library, virtual reference is one way to take the library to them."
—American Libraries

"This book will help one anticipate what's on the road ahead and avoid the dangerous curves...easy-to-read volume...I would recommend Going Live for anyone undertaking a virtual reference project...With this book and information from other perspectives, a smooth journey to "going live" is almost certain."
—Reference & User Services Quarterly

"...provides an overview to help new and aspiring virtual reference library departments to understand the process and its ramifications."
—Computers in Libraries

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