Virtual Reference in Libraries: Status and Issues. (Leading Libraries)

By Helfer, Doris Small | Searcher, February 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Virtual Reference in Libraries: Status and Issues. (Leading Libraries)


Helfer, Doris Small, Searcher


Like it or not, virtual reference in libraries is here to stay. As the American Express ad used to say, "It's everywhere you want to be." Virtual patrons, with access to electronic resources the library provides, will have questions. New library users will have questions on how to gain access to the electronic holdings. Some users will not have the time or inclination to go to the library. If my library doesn't offer virtual reference, I can guarantee other libraries will gladly answer their questions.

Is virtual reference at this point a great use of resources and a great replacement for visiting the library in person? Probably not, but then I know a lot more about available library collections and resources, including the electronic ones, than the average patron. If the average user gets a satisfactory answer to their questions, will they care that some print article obtainable from their library might have answered the question marginally better? My guess is, probably not! Nonetheless, sometime you will still need to tell a patron that only print resources have the answer or that you need them to come into the library to get additional help, beyond what is available virtually.

MCLS Consortium

When many librarians hear that library management is considering offering virtual reference service, especially from an organization with as ominous a name as 24/7, it conjures up nightmares of doing reference on the 2 to 4 a.m. shift. Not something that all but the most night-owlish of folks would look forward to.

So far, despite names like 24/7, very few individual libraries offer such continuously available service unless they belong to a larger consortium or a global company network, where service from sources around the country or around the world might fit into normal work hours. "Playing the time zones" may locate a librarian somewhere in the world for whom the 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. shift turns into the heart of the working day.

The 24/7 Reference is a project of the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System (MCLS), supported by federal LSTA funding, administered by the California State Library. To find out more about the project, please visit http://www.247ref.org. To quote, "The Service's goal is to provide libraries with the tools they need to do live reference on the Web. 24/7 reference was originally developed for use in our large library consortium, MCLS, located in southern California." The project has grown, and, although it started out as a service to and for members of the MCLS consortium, the LSTA grant has allowed a large number of libraries to add the service, including Boston College, Hartford Public Library, the University of Washington, Santa Monica Public Library, and Cornell University

The Metropolitan Cooperative Library System is an association of libraries in the greater Los Angeles area, which shares resources to improve library service to the residents of all participating jurisdictions. The 24/7 Reference service is staffed by local reference librarians, MCLS reference librarians, and library school graduate students hired by MCLS.

When users click on the Ask the Librarian logo at any participating library's Web site, the librarian answering the question may or may not work in their local library. When MCLS librarians cannot provide needed information, they refer patrons and/or their questions to their local library, the MCLS Reference Center, an expert, or another library. Note that MCLS had to hire additional graduate students to support their service; they did not go 24/7 with just the existing staff in their member libraries. Libraries using the 24/7 service can opt to participate with other libraries, taking questions from other consortium libraries, or choose only to deal with their own patrons. Because of the LSTA grant, MCLS member libraries choosing to participate in the 24/7 project do not have to pay for additional software or for training from the MCLS librarians on how to use the software.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Virtual Reference in Libraries: Status and Issues. (Leading Libraries)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?