ASIS&T 2006 START Conference Manager    

Shaping the Future Realities of Virtual Reference

Marie L. Radford, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Jeffrey Pomerantz

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


Abstract

This interactive panel will address some of the gaps in the research on virtual reference services (VRS). Results from two major research projects, one a statewide, the other an international evaluation of VRS will be discussed. These results contribute to understanding the needs of users, non-users, and librarian providers of VRS and how they determine success and satisfaction. It will contribute to services preparing for the reality of user needs in an increasingly digital information-seeking environment.

Overview This panel will address some of the gaps in virtual reference services (VRS) research. Results from two major research projects, one a state-wide, the other an international evaluation of VRS will be discussed in the context of addressing the needs defined by Pomerantz (2005). Pomerantz called for a “shift [in] the literature on chat-based reference services beyond the current spate of case studies and discussions of emerging standards and best practices in providing chat-based reference, to a higher level of discussion on the creation and discussion of theoretical frameworks to unite these standards and practices” (p. 1288). He outlined a research agenda and provided the foundation for the development of a coherent, holistic conceptual framework for VRS.

Beyond sporadic, usually quantitative data, little is known about the users of VRS: how they determine service excellence and rate satisfaction, how and why they choose to use VRS, and what their use patterns are. Also, little is known about the librarians who staff these services, their satisfaction with their performance, and how they determine success and satisfaction. Even less, indeed a negligible amount, is known about non-users of these services and the reasons they do not choose VRS. What data does exist on these topics is from case studies and evaluations of individual services; there have been no efforts at meta-analysis across services.

This panel will provide complimentary analyses from the two research projects, in the light of the conceptual framework proposed by Pomerantz. By addressing these gaps in our knowledge about VRS, this panel will contribute to services preparing for the future reality of user needs in an increasingly digital information-seeking environment.

This panel shall be an interactive discussion with a substantial audience participation component. It is hoped that the audience for this session will consist of both researchers and practitioners of reference, both virtual and otherwise, as well as those interested in servicing the digital library user. This discussion will be guided by the following questions:

1. What should be the relationship of VRS to other modes of reference service delivery (e.g., phone, email, etc.) in meeting user needs?

2. What functionality should VRS ideally provide?

3. How can diverse user communities be best served by VRS?

4. How can VRS function best in an environment in which differing resources are available to users?


  
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