my VR experience, follow-up

Two things to post in the aftermath of my virtual reference experience with Boston Public Library. First, Luke the Librarian, who does a lot of VR himself has written a long thoughtful post on what people should know about virtual reference, and what VR practitioners can still learn. Second, I got this follow-up email from the Social Sciences librarian at BPL with some more information both about the resources that were suggested to me as well as some information about the author of a book that was recommended, I guess he’s going to be in the area soon. Very cool, don’t you think? Marta Pardee-King is a class act. Note at the end of the transcript, someone there reads my blog too.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this sort of ongoing patron-relationship model is one of the things that the flesh-and-blood librarian model has over the VR model. I had a fine interaction with the woman I worked with, but she’s paid to interact with me, and many other patrons, on a case by case basis ONLY. There is no possibility of having a longer-term patron/librarian relationship and every VR situation is a new case. The VR librarian never gets to know you, never learns your habits, doesn’t have an investment in your continued patronage and in fact wouldn’t have a way to continue a librarian relationship with you if they wanted to. This is a shame. Having an option for 24/7 readyref types of interactions is definitely a way of increasing the library’s presence. Making sure that answering reference questions doesn’t become simply a matter of expedience and profit-motive is equally important. Thanks again to BPL and the woman who tried to help me with my harder-than-I-thought-it-was question. I had not intended to turn this into an object lesson, I was just trying to help my friend impress his mother-in-law.

3 Responses to “my VR experience, follow-up”

  1. lukethelibrarian Says:

    Thanks for the followup. I absolutely think that the relationship issue you refer to is actually a very important concern, and one that isn’t coming up nearly enough in discussions about VR implementations. The fact of the matter is, there’s nothing inherent to “the VR model” that would actually make such relationships impossible — if we start thinking out of the box with our policies and implementations. In terms of software, there’s no reason a patron couldn’t be presented with a choice of all of the currently available librarians (local, consortial, and freelance) to choose from if they wished to work with a particular favorite librarian. There’s also no technical reason that patrons must be in the dark about when their favorite librarian will be available to work with them next. The problem has been with implementation. Why are librarians perfectly willing to sit at a desk with a nametag and make themselves totally available to anyone who walks up to them, yet online they prefer to reveal nothing more than their initials, if even that? I have blogged over and over about how VR is an opportunity for libraries to reach out and actually serve patrons with a trusted human voice online — but we’re squandering away that opportunity with policies that create a false dichotomy between safety/security and warmth/relationships.

  2. L-net staff information blog » talking about bloggers talking about virtual reference, or, how to conduct a reference interview and show your patrons that you love them Says:

    [...] A bloggy discussion started by Jessamyn West last week has been making the rounds, and I hope that everyone will have a look at what Jennie Levine, Steven Cohen, Luke Rosenberger and Jessamyn again have said. I am thrilled to not have a lot to add – these intrepid bloggers are right on the money. [...]

  3. Unit 7: Near East « INLS 758 Blog Says:

    [...] I have some of the same qualms about libraries outsourcing reference work – through 24-hour virtual reference services where a patron might chat online with a librarian who might come from a completely different academic or organizational culture and who is not familiar with the resources available to the patron. Jessamyn West, who writes at, chronicled an less than wonderful experience she had with a virtual reference service, reflected later that “The VR librarian never gets to know you, never learns your habits, doesn’t have an investment in your continued patronage and in fact wouldn’t have a way to continue a librarian relationship with you if they wanted to.” To me, this is eerily similar to the practices of corporations who outsource their business. Jessamyn continues on to say that it is very important for libraries not to value expedience over people and to have profit as a motive over service. Libraries, I believe should not follow the path of corporations in this growing trend of outsourcing, but instead should continue to get to know and understand their communities and partner with them in providing the best library services possible. Posted in Assignments | [...]