I’ve never used a virtual reference product myself and I would be interested in hearing your reactions to this article appearing today on the Information Today web site – Virtual Reference in the Age of Pop-Up Blockers, Firewalls, and ServicePack 2. Apparently technology problems abound with the consensus among librarians that the available technology doesn’t meet the needs. For example, co-browsing is not very forgiving if you stray from the Microsoft world of IE and Windows, leading, I suppose, to more feelings of persecution among Mac users.
Some institutions are turning to instant messenging (IM) as an alternative:
With dissatisfaction on the rise, a number of libraries have started to shut down their virtual reference services, while others are considering this action. Another option many libraries have been exploring is using IM software to offer virtual reference. IM software supports Internet-based synchronous text chat. Some of the more popular programs include MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and ICQ.
Proponents of IM make this argument:
Librarians who offer IM feel that by providing IM reference, they are aligning their services with the preferred technology of an important user group. IM allows patrons to use the technology that they prefer rather than forcing users to communicate with librarians using “library technology.”
If you have had favorable experiences with a virtual reference service, please comment to this post. I would like to read an alternative view.