This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A workshop held at the Metropolitan Library Council of New York New York, NY 28 April 2009
General Principles for Effective Chat Reference
• The standards for service should be the same as they are for any other reference service point. o “Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers” (MOUSS Management of Reference Committee) • • • • Approachability Interest Listening/inquiring Searching Follow-up
Always keep in mind what things look like on the user’s screen (be empathetic). o Practice being a user, not just the librarian. Save the time of the user (Ranganathan). Tough question? Know when to keep at it and when to refer. Online communication is HARD. o Read the patron’s messages charitably. Users may not intend to be rude; their online communication skills may just be lacking.
o Be extra polite in your own messages. o In your messages, aim for proper spelling and grammar (although you can take a lot of shortcuts with the latter). o Avoid typing in all capital letters. • Try to manage the pace of the interaction so you are in charge. o Patron: “And can you also tell me how to find info on stem cell research, cloning, bioethics, recent legislation about biotech? Librarian: “Sure, but let’s tackle those one at a time. Let’s begin with your first topic...”
• • Use screen names that include institution name and personal name (if possible). At very least, have a personal name as screen name. Use a script for an opening greeting. o “Hi, I’m Stephen Francoeur, a librarian at Baruch College. I am reading your question now.” o Hi, I’m Stephen Francoeur, a librarian at Baruch College in New York. Your library and my library are part of a nationwide network of libraries that answer questions for each other. Please be assured that I will do my best to help you. I am reading your question now.” o If IM is used, this is not necessary, as connect times are nearly instantaneous. • Formality and tone o Make yourself as approachable as possible. o Start off fairly formal. o Mirroring the patron’s tone. If patron is very informal or chatty or engaged, it’s OK to be that way too. No harm in being a bit more formal than the patron.
• • Display interest in the question. o “That’s an interesting topic.” Assure the patron that they can get help. o “I think can help you with that.” o “I can probably help you find an answer.” o “I’m pretty sure we can find some sources.” • • Ask open-ended questions. Clarify the question. o Sometimes you may have to be diplomatic in getting the reference interview going. Patron: “I need to know how technology is making our lives better.” Librarian: “OK, that’s a good question…” Librarian: “So I can make sure I’m getting you the right sources, can you tell me a bit more about your topic and the assignment you’re working on?” o From Radford and Connaway (2007) Topic • • • • “Is there a specific animal that you’re researching?” “When is your paper due?” “Are you in the NYC area?” “So are you looking for the reasons why the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor?” “OK, and have you checked their web sites yet?” “Are you looking for books, articles, or online information?” “Were you looking for an in-depth history? Or a summary?” Background
Verify your own understanding (restate question)
Search history • Type of resource • Extent/depth • Referral 4
• • • •
“Do you want me to refer your question to your library?” “By the way, what I told you about the list being in strictly chronological order was not correct; I’m sorry.”
Correct earlier misunderstanding
Be prepared for typos from the patron (misspelled author names, title info, topics, etc.) Librarian will have to work harder at question negotiation than in face to face reference.
• Pacing your interaction o Keep your patron posted on what you're up to. o As you search on your own screen, come back periodically to chat. Don't let more than two minutes go by without a message to let them know what you’ve been finding (or what you are still trying to do). • “I’m finding some interesting articles in a database, but I want to check out a few more things…back in a few minutes, OK?”
If you're about to go off to search something, let them know that and how long you'll be gone. • “I’m checking a few ideas out…I’ll back here in a minute or two.”
o Don't ping one web link after another to patron but rather: Send a link. Ask if they got the link (or if the page opened automatically on their screen if the software supports that feature). Ask them to review the page to see if it looks like it might be helpful. Ask permission before sending another link (“Can I send you another link/web page?”) Break up long messages into series of short ones with little ellipses at end (it indicates to patron that another connected message will follow ASAP).
o Don't dump blocks of text in the chat window. • Shortcuts o Keyboard shortcuts (and right-mouse-click shortcuts) for copy and paste are essential skills: Copy = CTRL-C Paste = CTRL-V
o Discretely use Google, Wikipedia, etc., to verify author names, titles, topics, etc. that patron is asking about. o Use quote marks to indicate something that you've copied and pasted from a web page. o Use tabbed browser to open multiple web pages on separate tabs instead of separate browser windows.
What kinds of sources? o Privilege online sources. But connect back to print resources from the user's home library. Ask patron if they have any preferences or special needs.
o Be careful of links to databases (they may be session based and they may include proxy server URLs). • Showing and teaching o Tell the patron to open up browser tab/window and follow your step-by-step instructions for searching. • “1. Go to library home page” “2. Click ‘Databases’” “3. Scroll list of databases to ‘Academic Search Premier’ and click to launch it.” “4. You’ll be asked to log in using your ____________” etc. etc. Type operators in all caps (“civil war AND union army AND deserters”) to call attention to them.
o Give full Boolean search queries as suggestions, not just a string of keywords.
Don't be afraid to refer (but don't give up too easily) to a better service point. o Give options to the patron. Get email address from patron and follow via email. Give them phone number for reference desk. Get the patron’s phone number and offer to call back. Suggest a visit to the library’s reference desk. “This is turning out to be a bit more than can efficiently handled here. Would it be OK if I got your email address and followed up with you via email? Would you prefer to call me or the reference desk instead?”
• Ask patron if they have any more questions. o “Is there anything else I can help you with?” o “Did I completely answer your question?” o “Do you feel like you’ve got enough to go on now or do you have some more questions?” • • • • Encourage the patron to return if they have more questions. o “Feel free to come back if you need more help.” Send copy of the transcript to patron via email (if service allows for it). If you are passing along question for followup, ask patron how soon they need a reply. Patrons sometimes don’t know how to end chat sessions. They keep saying “thanks” and “have a nice day” etc. A good all purpose reply to “thanks” or “you were really helpful” is “It’s been my pleasure.”
The Rude Patron
• Be careful not to read ill will into patron’s messages (charitable reading). o Some patrons may not realize their message is abrupt or rude. o But when patron crosses a line, let them know. • If behavior persists, inform the patron that the behavior is not appropriate for a library service and that you will be ending the chat session. o Having a script on hand is especially helpful. o “This is a library service for asking real questions. When you have one, please return to this service. I am ending the chat now. Goodbye.” o “That language is not appropriate for this service. I am ending the chat now. Goodbye.”
Hirko, Buff, and Mary Bucher Ross. Virtual Reference Training: The Complete Guide to Providing Anytime, Anywhere Answers. Chicago: American Library Association, 2004. Kwon, Nahyun and Vicki L. Gregory. “The Effects of Librarians’ Behavioral Performance on User Satisfaction in Chat Reference Services.” Reference and User Services Quarterly 47 (2007): 137148. 27 April 2009 <http://www.rusq.org/2008/01/06/the-effects-of-librarians-behavioralperformance-on-user-satisfaction-in-chat-reference-services-2/>. MARS Digital Reference Guidelines Ad Hoc Committee, Reference and User Services Association. “Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services.” Reference and User Services Association. June 2004. 27 April 2009. <http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rusa/resources/guidelines/virtrefguidelines.cfm>. MOUSS Management of Reference Committee, Reference and User Services Association. “Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers.” Reference and User Services Association. June 2004. 27 April 2009. <http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rusa/resources/guidelines/guidelinesbehavioral.cfm>. Neerav. “Virtual Reference Training & Chasing the Sun VR Service.” Libraries Interact. 15 June 2008. 27 April 2009. <http://librariesinteract.info/2008/06/15/virtual-reference-training-chasingthe-sun/>. QuestionPoint. “Best Practices for 24/7 Reference Cooperative Sessions.” QuestionPoint Wiki. 30 January 2009. 27 April 2009 <http://wiki.questionpoint.org/247-Best-Practices>. QuestionPoint. “24/7 Reference Collaborative Policies and Procedures.” QuestionPoint Wiki. 30 January 2009. 27 April 2009 <http://wiki.questionpoint.org/247-Policies>. Radford, Marie L. and Lynn Silipigni Connaway. “Are We Getting Warmer? Query Clarification in Chat Reference.” Library Research Roundtable, ALA Annual Conference. Washington, DC. 23 June 2007. 27 April 2007 <http://www.oclc.org/research/projects/synchronicity/ppt/20070623-alalrrt.ppt>.