August 7, 2015 at 2:44 pm #791
This week’s topic was about reference and it’s place in a modern day library. One of the topics that piqued my interest during the twitter chat was using virtual reference services versus face to face reference services. Since face to face reference services are something I am quite familiar with, I thought I would investigate virtual services a little deeper. I decided to try out the Brisbane City Council libraries virtual reference service – “Ask a Librarian Chat”. A few weeks ago I had tried and failed to find a book on the library catalogue and decided now would be a good time to follow this up. I suspected the book would not be available but I also wanted to learn more about inter-library transfer’s. Overall my experience was positive although there were a few areas where things could have been improved.
I have a thing about not wanting to waste people’s time so I made sure I was well prepared before I started – I had my library card at the ready, along with the name of the title and author. I started the process by trying to find the book again and it said could not be found but the library chat window became visible on the right hand side. I first clicked on the help section, which gave some information about the process, although for some reason the font was very small. I then added my email address and typed in my question. The response time was very fast and it didn’t take long for the librarian to discover the book was not available. At this point I asked about inter-library loans and the librarian offered to send me an email with information about the process of doing an interlibrary loan. She asked for my email address again which I thought was a bit odd since I had already provided it. After quickly scanning the document I saw that there was no information about how long this process took or how much it cost. I asked the librarian who was fairly quick to answer and discovered the time is 1-5 weeks and the cost is 80 cents, but some libraries also charge for the loan and it can be up to $16. After I finished the session I was then invited to fill out a short survey about my experience. I also received a transcript of the chat via email which might be handy if I wanted to refer back to it later.
- Compared to having to visit a library, this process was much faster and more convenient.
- All my questions were answered and I received the information I was looking for.
- Although I did get the information eventually, I did have to prompt the librarian to give it to me. For instance, I initiated the question about inter library loans and I asked about length of time and cost. If I hadn’t asked the questions it seemed like I would not have received the information.
Overall this was a positive experience. It seems to me that virtual reference services are useful if you have quick and simple queries. However, given that I had to keep prompting the librarian for information, it seems that if you have a more complex issue it might still be necessary to speak to a librarian face to face. Therefore, I think that a hybrid combination of both face to face and virtual reference services would be best for most libraries.
August 11, 2015 at 11:01 am #946Paola BerettaParticipant
Your post is well written, interesting and with great insights on service delivery. I agree with you that having to prompt the agent is not ideal and impacts on your perception of the service, which appears to have been an overall positive experience. While reading it I was reflecting on my work as a Library Adviser and how prepared I am to anticipate user needs, without having them prompt me for information. There is always room for more learning and improvement, that’s for sure. Thanks for a great post!
August 11, 2015 at 11:43 am #949
Thanks Paola. Yes I think anticipating user’s needs is really important in creating a great user experience. It’s not always possible but I think in this case making the leap from the book is not available to “Would you like to try an inter-library loan?” is a reasonable leap to make. If you are a savvy library user you might already know about this but if not you might just give up at this stage and be disappointed.
August 12, 2015 at 11:09 am #962Robynne Kilborne BlakeParticipant
Thanks for your post Chris.
Being a pro-active seems to to be an essential part of a librarian’s job. It can’t be easy anticipating every user need but, on the other hand, an inter-library loan seemed like an obvious next step in meeting your request. The response time was fast but if the content of the response isn’t great that creates an instant negative to balance it out.
I wonder how many jobs that librarian was trying to juggle at once?
If answering chat questions was just added on to the many things he/she had to do without providing sufficient time to do so perhaps that could have contributed to the problem.
August 12, 2015 at 11:15 am #963
Thanks Robynne. I had that thought too – that the librarian might have been doing multiple tasks at once. I have heard that is common in virtual reference but of course there was no way I could know. Obviously if a librarian is being overloaded with too many tasks to do at once then that is going to have an impact on the service they provide and thus the customer experience.
August 16, 2015 at 10:04 pm #1070Kirsty RobertsParticipant
Great review, Chris!
Going over everyone’s posts, it’s been very interesting to see the way different organisations approach reference services. It’s definitely reassuring to know that BCC’s Ask a Librarian service is very prompt with their replies but a little less helpful to know that prompting was needed to have your needs sufficiently met online. It would be quite interesting to see whether submitting this same request in person garners different results.
August 16, 2015 at 11:07 pm #1073Nicole SteerParticipant
This is a good review Chris. Very well written! 🙂
I agree with what others have said that being proactive and anticipating users’ needs are important parts of being a librarian. You kind of always have to be one step ahead of them! 😀 I do agree as well though that they may have had a lot on their plate. If it’s anything like other “virtual librarian” services I’m familiar with, it was probably one person or not very many people, at least, answering all the questions. Especially in the case of public librarians, where the one thing you never have enough of is staff.
I like that they gave you an email transcript of the conversation. I’ve had a few times where I’ve used customer support services (don’t let me go into a diatribe about the parallels between customer support services and librarians!) like this where you get put in a two-person chatroom with a customer support rep and they work through your problem with you, and while some of them sent off an email transcript after the conversation ended, not all of them did, and it always felt like a glaring oversight – especially if they’ve already got my email address.
All in all, well written, and it might encourage me to use these virtual services myself when I need to! (Though I usually find getting out of the house and doing it in person is much better for my social life and mental health. :P)
October 3, 2015 at 5:57 pm #2301Chris SonneveldParticipant
Thanks for sharing your experience with the BCC Online Reference service. I think the level of service will always be dictated by the person on the other end and like always influenced by those higher up the chain. I’m not sure how long the service has been operating for so it might be interesting to see how the service develops. I used the same service through the National Library of Australia a few weeks ago and I would say I had a similar experience except that I knew that the book wasn’t available at the NLA and always knew I would need an inter library loan. I look forward to see how the online reference services evolving in libraries as like other industries I think it definitely speed up enquiries however it doesn’t work for everyone and the quality of the service will need to be consistent to encourage people to rely on it.
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