Ah, the ubiquitous and all encompassing topic of REFERENCE 2.0. In the time-honored tradition of the 2.0 designation, this topic has been attributed the same general, amorphous distinction of not having specificity attached to it, but dawns the uber inclusive and always fascinating pop culture label given to social media employed for a specific use within a profession or service.
There are almost an uncountable number of opinions and interpretations as to what providing this service means to library patrons, the most efficient and useful ways to do so, and what to call it at YOUR library … best practices and unsolicited advice abound in every corner and crevice of the information profession.
From my perspective, safely, this technology is more agreeably designated virtual reference services (VRS). As I have mentioned before VRS has many descriptions, the idea of it is constantly being tweaked and reduced into its finer parts wit every bit of research that attempts to gauge its usefulness and future benefit, with these changes parallel and affected by those changes to our professional culture.
The advanced reference course I took in library graduate school refers reference 2.0 and VRS as a universe that can be divided up into four patterns of use: collaboration, social networking, customization, and seamlessness (Cassell and Hiremath, 2011). These authors go on to say how those patterns can and do overlap much of the time. The ALA provides guidelines for implementing and using VRS at a library, which are helpful for educating the profession on the services’ uses. Even more, there are Web sites dedicated to informing and collaborating on the uses of VRS, such as WebJunction’s resources and libsuccess.org’s wiki page.
While these suggested parameters make a bold attempt to continue our profession’s categorization of this burgeoning collection of exciting technologies and to help information professionals collaborate on the topic, we are still left with the same ambiguity. As with most aspects of life, this topic has and will continue to have different uses and means for multiple individuals at different instances along the continuum of time.
… (reflection & personal experience)
Web 2.0 tools are exciting and their potential usefulness to libraries has yet to be determined, which is why I continue to take pleasure in reading about how libraries find ways to leverage their uses with providing their patron information needs and why I enjoy using these technologies.
Specifically and as an example, I absolutely enjoy using Twitter and Facebook as online discovery tools for my personal edification and graduate studies. From the perspective of an information professional, Twitter and Facebook possess significant potential for organizations and individuals to collaborate on projects, information gathering and discovery, and the sharing of information.
These services play an integral part in allowing libraries the opportunity of offering their services in less traditional ways. This extends the library’s reach of services, such as virtual reference, making them available to more potential users. Also, these services are made even more effective when the library patrons and users are already using them, where these services are placed in spaces the users already frequent, such as Facebook.
However, there are some criticisms for these types of services that should be mentioned. Learning to use these collaborative services can be challenging for some users and librarians, especially understanding how to use #hashtags and the basic navigation of social networking sites. Also, the ubiquitous nature of these services has led to many providers of similar services, each adding their spin and touch to each new offering. With so many similar services, libraries do not stand a chance of maintaining a presence in them all to reach 100% of their users who use the myriad of similar services. I have to add that I have very few problems using Web 2.0 tools, but I have had colleagues and past classmates that experienced problems using them.
With this in mind, I would like to digress to say I feel no suffering for those who have not embraced this technology or have not taken the time to at least gather a meager understanding of its benefit and inner workings. All aboard! The train to the 21st century and your future is leaving the station.
… (what’s really important)
The real importance of using VRS for an information professional is knowing if and how VRS can be of benefit to your specific patrons. Information-Ninjas and Infonators, you know who you are, should resist the diabolical trade winds of professional peer-pressure to blindly and eagerly implement VRS at their library in the cookie-cutter format that seems to prevail and substitute erroneously for innovation. The basics of this service are similar for most libraries across library types, but patrons and users across library types are not and VRS technologies and practices for each type should be respectfully tailored to an individual library’s audience. The evolution of the professional hinges on our knowing our users well enough to understand when a new technology, in this case a collection of technologies, will benefit them.
That is what is really important!
What are your thoughts? Please share your comments below.
As always, thanks for reading.