One of my favorite parts of my job is doing virtual reference. My library participates in a collaborative of Michigan libraries called Research Help Now. When I first started doing chat, fifteen years ago, I found every chat I picked up very stressful because I thought I had to quickly find an answer and was intimidated to try to help students on unfamiliar websites. Now, when I pick up a chat, I see it as a fun challenge and view myself as a partner with students as we work through their research questions together. I often get ideas for improving my library’s website by helping students do research on unfamiliar websites. Sometimes I find problems with my own library’s website by browsing chat transcripts.
Here are some virtual reference training ideas:
- Librarians can choose one of their own transcripts to review and think about what went well and what could have gone better. Or all librarians can review the same transcript and share observations. This can work for an online meeting using a shared Google Doc. If you’d like, use virtual reference best practices to guide the discussion.
- In our Michigan collaborative, we have a yearly best transcript competition. We use a rubric to evaluate transcripts and choose winners to recognize for their excellent work. I learned a lot about doing chat well by volunteering for the committee to review transcripts.
- Organize a panel of experienced chat librarians for a local or regional workshop. A colleague and I invited best transcript winners to speak on a panel at our Michigan Academic Library (MiALA) Conference, Celebrating Our Successes, Improving for Our Future: Best Chat Transcript Awards. It was a great opportunity for librarians to share virtual reference strategies. The session was recorded and I share the recording with new chat librarians at my institution.
- Here are additional chat training ideas that participants brainstormed during a workshop I facilitated with a colleague, Trust Me: Collaborative Chat Training for Uncertain Times.
What tips do you have for doing virtual reference? What training resources do you have to share?