ALA 2008: Please talk to strangers online

Please talk to strangers online: spreading trust in Virtual Reference
Sponsored by RUSA MARS/RSS Virtual Reference Services Committee

Moderator: Caleb Tucker-Raymond, Oregon Statewide Digital Reference Project Coordinator, Multnomah County Library (Oregon)
Panelists: Bill Pardue, Virtual Services Librarian, Arlington Heights Memorial Library (Illinois), Karen Docherty, Ask a Librarian Coordinator, Maricopa Community Colleges (Arizona), Vince Mariner, AccessPA Virtual Reference Coordinator, Ask Here PA (Pennsylvania)

Opening questions:
Why do we ask information from patrons, but not tell them about ourselves?
What opportunities does trust provide?
What are the consequences of a lack of trust?
What encourages trust?

He talked about inter-library trust in cooperative VR situations.

Problem: the greedy librarian syndrome (i.e. only my librarians can help my patrons) having this mindset can limit your VR coverage. To overcome this problem, we need to decide to trust a cooperative VR service.

How do we facilitate trust?

  • make our information easily findable
  • Question Point offers local policy pages, and other systems should build this, perhaps a wiki?
  • What do include: hours, maps, circ info, how to get/replace a card, deep links on our site, ILL, etc.
  • remember that this is an iterative process – this info is never “finished”
  • include event updates, modify it often
  • include staff only information (behind a password) like database info and passwords – consider the VR staff like another employee
  • include local community information i.e.
  • referral information
  • how your policies might be different – i.e. if you charge for ILL
  • give feedback to other libraries on their policy pages, what else needs to be included?
  • Transcript Review/Quality Control
  • everyone benefits from quality control, and it makes our patrons trust us more when they are followed up

Bill’s bottom line: trust hinges on shared values and community.

Response: as well as the “greedy librarian syndrome” we also have the “virtual reference superstar syndrome” – no one else can answer these questions better than me. we also need better features and better communication from our vendors, as well as due diligence with the technology we already have.

Karen also spoke about librarians trusting librarians, specifically how it’s working for them at Maricopa community colleges.

VR is reliant upon relationships and trust, not just practices and procedures.

Why does trust matter?

  • With it you can extend your services
  • your service quality can go up
  • efficiency
  • you learn from other librarians

What are the challenges in trusting other librarians?

  • you never see them
  • you have no control over them
  • “how could they possibly know about our…”
  • “I don’t like the way they…”

At Maricopa, they have decided to let others answer their questions (it cut their wait times in half), but have not yet committed to answering other libraries’ questions in the Question Point 24/7 cooperative service.

What it comes down to for Karen is communication, training, central coordination, transcript review, committing to best practices (i.e. RUSA guidelines)

Response: Vince had done some studies which showed that in regards to wait times, he actually found that there was higher user satisfaction if a session was longer than if the wait time was shorter.

Vince talked about trust between patrons and librarians.

Why do patrons actually trust us?

  • fear of failure/motivation to succeed
  • to create time for other things in their lives
  • it’s anonymous
  • they have a general information need
  • they are hopelessly lost – (because they are hopelessly lost, they are willing to waive the “don’t talk to strangers online” rule)

Some challenges faced by the patrons:

  • obtaining answers to local/account related questions (something that Bill addressed)
  • understanding the service – we need to present it well on our websites
  • using the service – usually technology related

Some challenges faced by the staff:

  • other librarians/libraries
  • non-like type patrons – serving K-12 if you are at an academic library, etc.
  • not being able to answer the question

For Vince, the key is to set expectations, meet them and try to exceed them. How do we build and maintain trust? Set expectations, provide A+ service (follow best practices, use shared resources), share goals, quality assurance and customer surveys.

Overall, while there were some very good points made, I felt that this panel could have focused more on the patron-librarian trust relationship. It was also very QuestionPoint heavy. At one point, Caleb, I think it was, polled the audience and more than half weren’t using QuestionPoint. While many of these points do translate to any software or service you might use, having a variety of perspectives on the topic might have been helpful. Also, I would also have liked to hear a perspective on the topic from a single-institution service, rather than all cooperative VR services.

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