Monday, October 3, 2011

Trends in Technology for Reference

Technology should be invisible and make things easier, not more difficult. There are many ways technology can be used effectively in reference service in any library. Andy Burkhardt from Champlain College in Burlington, VT, Michele McCaffrey from St. Michael's College in Colchester, VT, and Heidi Steiner from Norwich University in Northfield, VT, discuss innovative, cost-effective ways to use technology in outreach, management of reference services and enhancing virtual reference interactions.

Slides at

Andy Burkhardt - Technology for Outreach

One of the most important pieces of tech is: button maker.
They printed lots of different images and had a fun staff day to make the buttons, then put the buttons out at the desk to engage patrons - people will ask what they're for.

The goal of outreach should be engagement (focus on quality, not quantity). You don't need to reach everyone, and no two communities are the same.

Don't be afraid to get patrons to help with outreach - UVM did a photoshoot of students holding an "ASK" sign, and then share the photos online, using bookmarks, posters/signs. Or do a "why you 'Like' the library" contest on Facebook - people will share creative photos. Champlain College using twitter (@champlib) to retweet events and other info to promote sharing, being a good friend and community member - resulted in people asking reference questions via Twitter (either the library directly or their community)

These efforts will pay off.

Michele McCaffrey - Technology for Reference Administration
Zoho - way to track reference statistics

  • Breaks down what kinds of questions, what kinds of patrons, busy times, trends, length of interaction

  • Very easy to manipulate and view data

  • Can also use it to keep track of instruction sessions

  • Has free version, but also pay models - St. Michael's ended up bumping up to the Basic plan ($15/month) because they found it worth the money) - way to schedule appointments
Allows patrons to see when appointments are available, choose their librarian to work with (or by subject area, or any available librarian), length of session. Uses email to notify staff to confirm appointments. One drawback is there is no "notes" field to let patron provide specific information, so staff have been asking this question with email confirmations.

Heidi Steiner - How to make the virtual reference experience better

Barriers to virtual reference:

  • Reference interview is labor intensive, if it happens at all

  • Technical problems are magnified and difficult to diagnose

  • Instructions take longer to explain in text

  • You have no idea if they're getting it

Lots of free and flexible technologies available

  • On-the-fly screencasting (not the same as nicely edited videos) - use to demo things in the moment, tailored to their info/question/resource. Free online examples: Screencastle (very simple, no limits), Screenr (a little more advanced, can pause, put in audio), Screencast-o-matic (most advanced of the three)

  • Screen sharing - great for synchronous over chat (sharing what's going on on your screen with someone else). All of them require you to download or run a program - these do not require that of the patron: [Heidi's favorite] (can be done from their website or download to your computer; patron gets emailed a link and code to view your desktop in their browser; also has internal chat for easy communication, and you can also share control so patrons can practice or interact); Quick Screen Share (same people as screencast-o- matic); ShowMyPC (patrons have to run .exe file); Mikogo (download-and-install type software, and gives the most options and functionality); Skype and Google+ also offer screensharing, but require patrons to already have an account

  • One-on-One research consultations with web conferencing - Adobe ConnectNow - patrons just need the URL for your room, and Flash installed. Has all the essentials except presentation sharing. Big Marker - you need an account, but has no limits - you can do anything (and set your own limits), and seems designed for people doing tutoring (and trying to make money from tutoring). Wiggio - a full shared environment, but no VOIP (does have video chat and text chat). Meeting Burner - still in beta, but one to watch, it seems much faster than other services

Is it risky to rely on free tools, and what are for-paid tools that don't require plugins?
Show my PC has a paid option, and there are things like Blackboard Collaborate, WebX. Other good options are Google Forms and SurveyMonkey for ref stats

How do these companies make money?
They give a little away free, but if you go over their limits they charge you. Also with ads - screencast-o-matic embeds watermarks in the free version. doesn't seem to have any add ins.

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