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Reference Training: General Standards for Virtual Reference

The purpose of this guide is to provide information on reference service and resources for library staff and others who may have the opportunity to assist patrons in a liaison's absence.

Virtual Reference Service Guidelines

General Standards for Virtual Reference at Evans Library

 

These standards set a basic level of expectation for virtual reference service at Evans Library.  They apply to our chat and text message reference services through Library H3lp.  There may be occasions that require exception, please use your professional judgment.

 

Greeting:

  • Always use a greeting.  You may use your own style.
    • Examples: “Hello!” “Hi!”, etc.  You may also wish to introduce yourself.
  • Greet all chat patrons as quickly as possible.  Even if you cannot answer the question immediately, provide a greeting and an acknowledgement of the patron immediately.
    • Example: “Hello, I’ll be with you in just a moment.”
    • Example: “Hi, I’m helping another person right now.  You’re welcome to wait a few moments, or if you want to leave your email address I can get back with you shortly.”

 

For Text (SMS) Questions

  • Please include a greeting if space permits.
  • Greet all SMS patrons as soon as possible.

 

Reference Interview

  • Reference interviews are as vital in the online world as at the physical desk.  Be sure you clarify/understand the patron’s question, then exhibit that understanding.  Remember WORF: Welcoming, Open-ended questions, Rephrase, Follow-up. You may also ask the patron what he/she has already tried.
    • Example:  “So, you are looking for research on Attila the Hun.  Would you like help finding books, articles, or both?”

 

Providing Instruction

  • Use your chat session as a teaching session. Provide instruction to patrons on how to retrieve information themselves. In the case where a patron seems stressed, you may provide them with an actual link. Then give them some instruction on how to find the information themselves for future knowledge.

 

Formality

  • Maintain a business casual tone.
  • Avoid “chatspeak” i.e. lol, ru there, brb, etc.
  • Emoticons are welcome. Use your judgment.  Go ahead and use a smiley face if the patron is pleased with the chat.
  • Do your best to maintain proper grammar and punctuation. Typos happen, but do not fret when they do.

 

 

Closing the Session

  • There are two ways you can end a chat session, unless the patron leaves the session or clearly exhibits that they have no further questions.
    • Inquire about further questions.
      • Example: “Do you have any more questions?” “Do you feel you have enough to get started?” “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
  • Invitation to return.
  • Example: “Please come back if you think of anything else!” “We’ll be online until 9 PM EST if you think of any other questions.”
  • Feel free to combine these two approaches and/or give a formal goodbye if appropriate.

 

If the patron disappears without closing the window:

  • Do not just close the window.  Send a message that the patron will receive if he/she returns, especially if you’re about to have a shift change. 
    • Example: “I haven’t heard from you in a while, so I’m going to close our session.  Someone else will be here to help you if you return. Bye!”

 

If the patron leaves unexpectedly:

  • If you are notified that the patron has closed the window before you finished the session, just close the window.

 

 

Don’t forget!

  • Don’t forget to mark yourself as away or busy if you leave your computer for any reason.