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Virtual Reference Services at J. Murrey Atkins Library

Service Provider

Our chat service provider is Libraryh3lp. It includes an embeddable chat widget similar to Meebo Me and related tools, but with some considerations toward use by libraries and other service organizations.

The key feature of the chat widget is that it is designed for use with their queues and routing system (so that multiple librarians can staff a chat service).

Other differences:

  1. Written in HTML/JavaScript only, so does not require Flash.
  2. Links sent to a "patron" during a chat are clickable.
  3. Librarian and patron each receive typing notification.
  4. Compatible with text-to-speech software for accessibility

When there are service issues, please feel free to check the Libraryh3lp blog or the Twitter page.

Best Practices

·   Clarify the information need. Allow the patron to fully explain his/her information need before responding.

·   Use open-ended questioning techniques to encourage the patron to exp& on the request, e.g. "Please tell me more about your topic" or "What additional information can you give me?" or "How much information do you need?"

·   Use questions to refine the search query. E.g. "What have you already found?" or "What type of information do you need (books, articles, etc.)?" or "Do you need current or historical information?"

·   Break up long responses into a few blocks (e.g. 30 words per block)-this avoids long pauses and the client can begin reading your response while you are completing it.

·   Explain your search process to the patron and describe what you are finding whenever possible. Remember that the patron cannot see you. Let the patron know what you are looking for and where you are looking.

·   If you are going to be checking printed sources or taking a bit of time with the question, either provide patron w/ resource to look at, or offer them the option of follow-up via email.

·   Use complete citations.

·   If an inquiry needs to be referred to another librarian, give the patron detailed information about who to ask, how to contact them and what to ask for.

·   "Inappropriate behavior": When patron behavior is inappropriate, send a warning message or terminate the call. Repeat offenders should be reported.

·   Type like you talk, in a conversational manner.

·   Avoid yes/no responses. Yes/no's can be interpreted as cold and unfriendly, just as in face-to-face reference.

·   Clarify confusing terminology and avoid excessive jargon. Use terminology that is understandable to the patron.