September 8, 2015 at 9:33 pm #1708Patricia FordParticipant
For this review, I have used RUSA’s Guidelines for Behavioural Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers as the framework for evaluating the success Virtual Reference Service. The decision to use these guidelines for evaluation is due to their “broad acceptance in the field of librarianship as the basis for best practices in reference, and are supported by research.”
The initial visibility of the service was good, with the ‘Ask us’ widget appearing on the front page of the library website, and appearing on each page as I navigated through the site. This function was important to allow the user to notice, use and recall the service when required. However, while on the catalogue search results page, there was a noticeable inconsistency in the placement of the widget. The widget moved from the bottom right hand corner to the top right. As the inclusion of the chat service is particularly useful to have on this page, this change in placement is potentially disorienting.
The widget gave an indication of the availability (Ask us – online now), which later switched to ‘Offline – search FAQs’ when the service was not monitored. The offline service provided a search function for the FAQ’s and an enquiry submission option, which gave a 48 hour timeframe for a response.
The chat window requested basic information: name, patron type (student, staff, visitor) and enquiry. The name field was able to be left blank for an anonymous chat, which is an important option for users who are asking questions they may not feel comfortable to ask in person.
Overall, the visibility, text and icons were effective and met the requirement of being simple and intuitive.
In terms of approachability, after submitting my reference enquiry, after a minute a response was received: “Please wait while I check this for you.” In setting the tone for the reference enquiry, use of a greeting would have conveyed a friendly and helpful attitude, and the lack thereof did not assist in establishing rapport.
After the initial advice that the staff member was checking, there was a substantial period of time (7 minutes) with no interaction or update on the progress of the search. Studies have shown transactions “rarely had pauses of more than a minute or two”, and regular contact assuring the user that their enquiry is valuable, and is in the process of being actioned. An improvement to current practices would be to have staff respond in short, concise answers, rather than lengthy replies after an extended timeframe.
In a chat session, listening and inquiring skills are essential for a positive experience. In my enquiry, however, the fundamental elements of the reference interview were not undertaken. In the online environment the user is able to comprehensively state their question and requirements, and I did so by providing detailed information: the journal article title, journal name and date. Studies show however, that most users do not comprehensively express their needs at the start, and require further investigation from the reference librarian. There was, however, no further inquiry into my information need during the chat session.
While the outcome of the search was successful, with a online link provided to the article I was seeking, there was no explanation of the search strategy, or knowledge sharing to increase my own literacy skills in order for me to utilise these skills at a later date.
The chat ended with “negative closure” – there was no follow up to confirm my needs were met, and if any other assistance was required, which has been noted as a frequent user complaint. After the chat disconnected, a survey appeared where I could rate the chat, a function which is a useful way to evaluate the effectiveness of the service.
Overall, the technological side of the virtual reference service worked well and met the assessment standards provided by RUSA. Although I did receive the solution to my reference enquiry (and thus overall satisfied with the outcome), the actual reference interview failed to meet the standards set by RUSA in many of the areas set by the guidelines.
6/10 would recommend
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