Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ups and Downs of Video Reference

Earlier this January, Chad Boeninger wrote on his blog, Library Voice, about the lackluster use of the library's video reference service at Ohio University, which is advertised on the Skype portion of the library's Ask a Librarian pages. The library had also been using Skype to power a video reference kiosk located far from the reference desk (the service was ended last fall due to lack of use). Although Boeninger believes that his users may never get on board with the idea of requesting help via video chat, he does not have regrets about the project:
In many circles, our experiment with Skype video reference might be considered a failure.  At my library, we tend to try something while studying it, rather than study it for ages before attempting something new.  While we didn’t get the results we expected with our video kiosk experiment, setting up the service cost us almost nothing.  In the process, we learned about video calling software options, how to configure pages to close automatically with javascript,  discovered how flaky wireless connections and computer applications can be, and much more.  We also learned to be flexible, patient, and try different things to improve the service.
With his post in mind, I was intrigued to see that the Hennepin County Library is considering setting up its own video reference system. At the upcoming Library Technology Conference (March 17-18) at Macalester College, a pair of librarians from Hennepin County Library will give a talk titled, "Video Reference: A Pre-Test and Pilot Project." As noted in the description of the talk, the rationale for piloting such as a service is to address limited staffing options in two new libraries that the library system is opening and to see if the service might also help out in smaller libraries that also want to expand their reference options. Given Ohio University's experience with video reference, it will be very interesting to see if Hennepin County Library finds a way to make such a service work (my fingers are crossed for them!)


At 10:29 AM , Blogger stevenb said...

Video reference is where cloud computing was in 1995. Everyone thought it was a great idea but it didn't work and the conclusion was that the technology just wasn't there yet. Now, it's very much a hot technology. Back in 2007 I said that within 2 years many libraries would have video reference, but the software and hardware are still too clunky. I continue to believe that when the technology catches up to the idea, we'll see more users taking advantage of video user support services.

At 3:01 PM , Blogger Leo Klein said...

I think the first question when you're contemplating this is, where is your user.

If your user is using video in this way, then go for it. If not, then find out what the user prefers and go head-over-heels for that.


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