Services & Policies - Spring 2004

Virtual Reference Service for Online Users

The Weinberg Library Reference Department now meets and serves University of Scranton's students, staff, and faculty in cyberspace real-time. Since last September, Weinberg Reference librarians have been available online for chat between the hours of 9 - 11 p.m, Mondays through Thursdays, and from 3 - 5 p.m., Sundays. By following the path, Library >> Help >> Ask a Librarian, users can either chat during scheduled times, getting real-time help, or e-mail their questions in off hours.
Users' questions generally tend to be either those requiring short answers - as in, "What's my password to get in the databases?" [Answer: Use your SSN and your ddmmyy] - or those requiring a little help with their research, too - as in, "I'm not finding much material on my topic. Can you suggest some other search databases/ terms/strategies I might use?"
The next development in the Weinberg Library's virtual reference service will probably be an extension in the hours of chat and software capability. Charles Kratz, Dean of the Weinberg Library and member of the American Jesuit Colleges and Universities Library Directors Conference, has asked the Reference department to assess a virtual reference program being developed by the Virtual Reference Task Force (VRTF) of the AJCU-Library Directors Conference. The VRTF, appointed by the AJCU-LDC last year and chaired by Mark Jacobs, Georgetown University, is currently developing a pilot program allowing AJCU member libraries to share online chat and to evaluate the feasibility of 24/7 chat.
Presently, the VRTF is evaluating software for the pilot program that will allow co-browsing of Web pages by librarian and user. Co-browsing allows the librarian and the user to actually view the same pages and allows the librarian to demonstrate various searches for the user. When software has been chosen, then the pilot program will begin.
One of the advantages of the proposed virtual reference program, according to Elizabeth Salzer, Chair, AJCU Library Directors Conference, will be to allow member libraries to extend their hours of chat by taking advantage of the different time zones of the AJCU libraries.

Linda Neyer