Information Update - Spring 2013

Updates to Virtual Reference @ WML

In the past year, the library's virtual reference services have undergone some major changes for the better. The goal has been to improve the user experience for our students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who use these services to receive remote assistance directly from a librarian.
The first upgrade involved our instant message (IM) reference service. How patrons access our IM reference service has evolved over the past three years. As a result, the accessibility of the service needed an upgrade to meet the changing needs of our users.
Three years ago, more than half of our IM reference questions came in via AIM, Yahoo and Google Talk users; now, the majority of our IM reference questions reach us through our coded IM widgets, which we have embedded throughout our library web pages. While we always had an IM widget available to patrons, until last year it was only accessible on a few of our web pages, and in a manner that made clicking back and forth between windows difficult. Now, if a patron visits the library homepage and clicks on the widget image in the left-hand navigation panel that reads "Ask a Librarian," an easy-to-manipulate IM widget appears in a new window, enabling the patron to ask a question while still having easy access to the library's website in a separate window.
In addition to our IM reference service, our 24/7 chat reference service has also undergone a major upgrade. Provided in conjunction with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) Virtual Reference Project and, this chat reference service is available to patrons 24/7, whether or not the library is open.
There are two significant ways our 24/7 chat service has been updated. First, the service is much more accessible to patrons, as a result of a tweak to the code of our new IM widget described above. When our librarians are not logged into our IM service – when we are closed, for instance – the widget is replaced with an "offline" message that offers the patron the ability to click to access our 24/7 chat service. As a result of this minor tweak, our 24/7 chat service is available in all of the same places our IM service is, resulting in a more seamless experience for the patron.
Secondly, our 24/7 chat service has been updated is in terms of functionality. Once a patron has engaged the service, the screen through which the patron chats with a librarian has been entirely redesigned. The chat panel has been moved to the left hand side of the screen, allowing the internal web browser to fill the main part of the screen. Since so much virtual reference help involves questions about accessing resources online, this design change makes getting and giving online help much easier on the patron and the librarian. Also, the patron now has the ability to share a link with the librarian, whereas in the old software only the librarian could share a link that would appear in the internal browser. Finally, the new 24/7 chat software is mobile-friendly, which means a patron now has the ability to engage the 24/7 chat service from a mobile device and still receive high-quality service.
With these updates, we hope that our patrons' experience receiving virtual reference help from a librarian will be much smoother.
As always, if you have any suggestions for improvement to our virtual reference services, don't hesitate to give us feedback on how we are doing. Our virtual reference coordinator is Donna Witek, who can be reached at
In addition, we can always be reached through our other virtual reference services as well: Text a UofS Librarian at (570) 687-8787, and via email at
Special thanks go to Jennifer Galas, evening systems specialist, for offering her technical expertise with these updates, and to the Reference Department for always providing consistent, quality virtual reference service to our patrons.

Donna Witek

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