Friday, May 22, 2009

Essential Chat Reference Skills and Training Techniques

I recently discovered that the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science has a podcast series from its colloquia (here's the feed URL) that includes a nice presentation by Lili Luo from 2007 about chat reference skills and chat reference training. There are number of ways to access the recording of her presentation:

As part of her doctoral work at UNC Chapel hill, she surveyed nearly six hundred librarians about what they felt were the essential chat reference skills. Then she held another survey that close to three hundred librarians responded to in which respondents noted which training techniques they had encountered when being shown how to do chat reference.

Of the thirty compentencies listed in the first survey, twenty-one were deemed essential. As noted on Luo's slides from her presentation, the top five were:
  1. Refererring users to appropriate/services when necessary
  2. Skills in selecting and searching databases and internet resources
  3. Familiarity with subscribed library databases
  4. Ability to think quickly and deal flexibly with unexpected situations
  5. Using open probes to clarify questions
The survey on chat reference training techniques asked respondents to rate twenty-three different approaches for teaching. The top ones that Luo listed on her slides were:

  1. Trainees pair up as patron and librarian to gains hands-on experience on using the software
  2. Trainees review selected chat transcripts to learn more about the transation
  3. Trainees ask questions to real chat reference services as users and evaluate their experiences - the secret shopper approach
  4. Librarians pair up to practice chat reference skills on a regular basis for a certain period of time
  5. Cheat sheet containing vital information librarians might need to access quickly and often while covering the service
There is tons of great stuff here that should help anyone who has to train colleagues in how to do chat reference. The only quibble I have is Luo's description of a competency that is unique to chat reference: the knowledge of library services and resources of other libraries in a chat reference consortium. She suggests that to provide effective service in a cooperative service, librarians must have a basic level of familiarity with the services and resources provided at each member library. I don't think that quite gets to the real skill that librarians who do chat in a cooperative environment have to master.

What is essential is that librarians are familiar enough with the wide range of services (and ways of offering those services) that a library elsewhere in the cooperative might offer. As a librarian at Baruch College helping students at UC San Diego in the QuestionPoint 24/7 Reference Academic Cooperative, I don't need to have memorized all the services at UC San Diego. I just need to know how to navigate the library's web site to see if such a service that the student is asking about is offered and how it is offered. In QuestionPoint, we also have online "cheat sheets" on each library in the cooperative that give you a quick overview of that library and its services and resources (as well as the relevant links to the library's many web pages). If UC San Diego happens to loan digital cameras to students, I am not expected to have memorized that fact; but I should know how to find out if the UC San Diego library does so if I am ever asked about.

As far as familiarity with resources at member libraries go, again, I don't need to have memorized what libraries have which databases. But I must know how to locate any library's list of databases. I should also know how to recommend databases that I am unfamiliar with based on subject guides, etc., that a library has put up. At no point, though, am I expected to have the ability to list from memory what resoruces each library has. With hundreds of libraries in the academic cooperative, it just isn't possible to memorize like that even if you wanted to.

Dont' let this very minor quibble, though, deter you from checking out what is a wonderful presentation.


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