The spirit of sharing and cooperation is perfectly at home in the Library world. The most traditional form of collaboration is Interlibrary Loan, but libraries have also found some more unique ways to collaborate, including through shared virtual reference services. There are several things to keep in mind when establishing collaboration on virtual reference service. Consider your goals.
Think about subject matter. Partnering with libraries with similar focus and clientele will ensure a consistency of service, but searching for libraries with a different focus could broaden the type of reference queries you can answer through virtual reference. Think about your patron base. Who are they and what type of questions are they most likely to ask?
Think about location. Local libraries may ensure ease in the collaboration process, but reaching out to libraries in other regions can increase the hours of availability for your virtual reference services. Collaboration between Universities from different time zones could mean available reference service in the wee hours of the morning, when students might be finishing up that paper, but the library isn’t open.
When entering into collaboration you want to make sure that all institutions are on the same page. Everyone should be willing to commit roughly the same amount of effort and time. No one institution should be unduly burdened. Once your virtual reference collaboration is off and running you’ll want to keep careful statistics. Keep record of when the queries are coming in, who is answering them, and the basic subject matter. Use these numbers to continue ensuring that the workload is evenly distributed, and to think about areas where you might need to broaden your individual collection and services.
Collaboration doesn’t make sense for every library. Your individual institution will need to decide what is right for them. However, it is worth investigating and thinking about how it can improve your virtual references services and the customer experience. After all, it’s all about the patron.