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Virtual Reference Services

Parameters of Service

Oregon Tech librarians utilize the Virtual Reference Services (VRS) as another method to teach patrons to find and use library resources and the Internet effectively. VRS, which is provided 24/7, complements the other communication methods with the Oregon Tech community, along with face-to-face, phone and email.

The purpose of the VRS is to provide fast, real time online reference help to patrons at the point of need. Patrons can chat with a librarian via embedded IM/Chat widgets from select library web pages: home page, Ask a Librarian a Question page, Contact a Librarian page, and from the EBCSOHost electronic resources.

Instant Messaging by definition requires a fast exchange of short messages, and is not intended for answering patrons’ in-depth research inquiries. Types of questions best answered through the chat service include:

  • directional
  • ready reference, such as a fact or a date (e.g. quick information about a course, library hours, etc.)
  • selection of an appropriate electronic resource for a specific research project
  • citing sources

If a question requires an extensive time and effort on the part of the librarian to answer, the patron is advised to pursue other options: send an e-mail to libtech@oit.edu, fill out an online reference question form from the Contact a Librarian page, call the Research Assistance desk by phone, or schedule an individual appointment with a subject librarian.

In large part the chat service is performed at the Research Assistance desk during reference hours, which also precludes any prolonged exchange of messages between a reference librarian and a patron. In the case of simultaneous requests for librarian’s attention, the preference is given to the face-to-face interaction.

To extend the hours of operation of its chat services, the Oregon Tech Library works collaboratively with the other academic and public libraries of Oregon. If the patron’s question is not picked up by the OT librarian in 20 seconds, it is automatically redirected to the next librarian available in this order: first state and then nationwide.

The chat service is available during breaks as staffing allows.

Librarians provide legal, medical, and grant research assistance but are not qualified to give advice in these areas.

Library staff has the option to refuse service to patrons who use inappropriate language and behavior.

Clientele

This policy defines the primary clientele for the library Virtual Reference Services as the whole Oregon Tech community, on-campus and remote: current students, faculty and staff.

The service is also open to the community patrons outside of Oregon Tech; however, questions from the primary clientele are given priority over others.

Personnel Involved

The Virtual Reference Services at the University Libraries are provided by professional librarians.

Evaluation and Statistics

The VRS are evaluated as part of the Oregon Tech Library research assistance services. The VRS usage statistics are recorded on the Answerland website, and are collected by the Reference Services Coordinator and the Library Office Specialist on a monthly basis.

The collected data is used to improve the provision of the VRS, determination of staffing level, and as an argument for or against the continuation of such service at the Oregon Tech Library. 

Privacy

All online communication between librarians and patrons, including chat transcripts, is treated as confidential and private, except when its exposure might be required by law.

The same attitude is used towards any data gathered for evaluation purposes. If patrons’ chat transcripts or surveys are kept for evaluation purposes, all identifying information is removed. This is the way chat transcripts are stored in the archive on the Answerland website. The archive is password-protected and can be accessed by the librarians-participants only.