QuestionPoint had a great panel discussion at ALA on Saturday, June 23, 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM. The panel discussed three topics:
- Quality of service: Marie Radford (Rutgers U) and Lynn Connaway (OCLC Office of Research) discussed their latest research, “Seeking Synchronicity: Evaluating Virtual Reference Services from User, Non-User, and Librarian Perspectives". After describing the research methodology, which included transcript evaluation, focus group interviews, and surveys, Lynn and Marie presented several recommendations for cooperative virtual reference services (promotion ideas; communication tips - to explain why you are helping them even though you are not from their library; and how to share expectations - and exceed them). They also presented recommendations for individual VR librarians who are staffing cooperative reference services: start off on the right foot, accentuate the positive, etc. Marie stressed the importance of clarifying the question (the importance of the reference interview), and tips for how to handle multiple patrons.
- Eliminating barriers to service: Heather Muller, Washington State Library, discussed serving users who utilize assistive devices (such as screen readers). Heather worked with the Washington State School for the Blind and Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL) to see how effectively QuestionPoint's new "Chat 2" patron interface would work with students using assistive technologies. The students were using JAWS, Window-Eyes, Hal, MAGic, and Tele-sensory Braille Readers. Heather found that the QP interface behaves differently with different readers, and that the presence of pop up blockers on the student computers could prevent some HTML links from working. The one negative reported by the students was that the notification sound for a new message is not loud enough. However the students had lots of positive things to say about the interface: the interface is very simple - better with screen readers than other commercial IM; the coding of the interface makes it easy to navigate; and response time seems faster.
Since the librarians are unaware that the student is using Chat 2, there is true equity of access for those that use assistive technologies.
- Promoting the service: Bill Pardue of Arlington Heights Memorial Library, IL, discussed tips for promoting their virtual reference service. Bill focused on how libraries can place their link to their Ask Us service to increase usage - he calls it "tripping over reference". Bill's tips include: place the link to your service on the library home page, but be sure it is above the fold (to check that, use 800X600 resolution). Be sure and brand the service so people know what it is (e.g., “Ask a Question Live Online” or “Get Live Online Help”). If possible, make sure that link is part of the basic page template, so that wherever the user is on the library website, the Ask link will be there too.
Don't stop with the library web page! Bill discussed how he has placed links to his Ask service in the catalog and database pages too (he demonstrated the link he has in his Gale databases, as well as how to surface your service through Worldcat.org.
He also recommended other places for the service link: city home page, Chamber of Commerce, social service agencies, social sites or blogs in your community, etc.
Bill found that 70% of his library's sessions originated from places other than the library home page and catalog.