Virtual references services can broaden the scope of library services, and help you to reach new patrons, but one of the keys to a successful virtual reference program is efficiency.
1. Create a FAQ for you and for patrons. A FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list is a helpful resource for any library website that both benefits patron service and saves staff time. Patrons can answer their own questions quickly without aid of a staff member, staff can direct patrons directly to the appropriate question and answer, or staff can use the FAQ to help answer the questions themselves.
2. Have devoted time blocks for staff members for virtual reference. Virtual reference services should provide patrons with the same quality service as traditional service. If staff members are multi-tasking or prone to interruption while performing virtual reference, it may impede the quality of service. If you can’t set aside blocks of devoted time, or it doesn’t make sense given your virtual reference traffic, have staff working on projects that are easily interrupted and set aside.
3. Select your virtual reference tool wisely. Do your research before selecting a tool for your virtual reference services. You want a tool that can handle the virtual reference traffic efficiently, and you don’t want staff having to troubleshoot technical glitches while providing service.
4. Keep virtual reference limited to ready reference. Virtual reference services should be limited to questions that can be answered quickly and easily. For questions that require more extensive research, request the patron’s contact information.
5. Keep key reference sources at your fingertips. Create a set of shared bookmarks for online resources so staff can refer to them easily and quickly. If there are books that are frequently used to answer reference questions, have staff keep those on hand while engaging in virtual reference.
6. Consider Collaboration. Many libraries collaborate with other libraries on virtual reference service. This can be done through organization with an established consortium, or by reaching out to peer institutions.