IL 2010: Failcamp

speakers: Krista Godfrey, Char Booth, & Jan Dawson (moderated by Amy Buckland)

Buckland: Librarians seem to like reinventing the wheel. We only share our successes and not our failures (so that others may avoid them).

Dawson

AskON is an online chat reference service created by Knowledge Ontario. They wanted to integrate VOIP into their chat service so that they could add in vocal cues to clarify/focus the reference interview. They first used LivePerson, but the click-to-chat call button didn’t work, so they looked into Skype. When they were looking at feedback, they found that the data gathering portion was incomplete (forgotten or misused). However, they were able to follow-up on the feedback and found that staff preferred the workflow of text to vocal chat. Also, often both staff and users didn’t have proper equipment for vocal chat.

Godfrey

Fell into SecondLife and it snowballed from there. This snowballing is often the source of some fails. She was offered a chance to be on a panel talking about SL and then also some free space within it. So, her library began to explore how they could use the space in SL.

At one point they had six librarians covering shifts in SL, but after a while, participation dropped due to increases in traditional reference services and busy schedules. Fewer and fewer students were already active users, and they weren’t likely to start using it for reference services. They still have the island and hope to do something with it someday, but have stopped trying to do reference services there.

Booth

Don’t focus so much on the cause of failure. Figure out your contingency plan, then implement it if necessary.

Her library created a kiosk with a live image of a librarian’s face. The idea was to create a virtual reference space, but no one used it that way. In the end, they found it was more of a humorous PR tool.

Fake it like you’re making it. You can have self-doubt, but don’t show it. Your success will be more likely.

Audience

Are there any library initiatives to record and share failures? Not yet, but Kendra Levine offered to start one.

Library wanted to have a subject guide as a wiki, but it failed. How do you deal with a failure that you really wanted to work?

How do you process the failure as a group? If something does fail, assess it. It’s easier to walk away and ignore it, but you can’t learn from that.

Sometimes failures can turn out to be wild successes, but not in the way it had been originally designed. Tweak with purpose. And stop trying to control the user – learn what they need and how they want it, and you’ll have more success.

You need to know what resources you have from admin. You can’t go in to fix something if you don’t have the tools you need to fix any problems.

virtual services in libraries

This started as a comment response to David Lee King’s admonition, but by the time I got to paragraph three, I decided it would be better to post it here instead.

My library (small private academic university) offers both IM and email reference services. There is a note on the IM page of the website which states, “Users at the Main Service Desk have priority over IM users. IM users are taken in a first-come, first served order. If you would prefer not to wait, you may always email a librarian.” Essentially, this is the only way we can manage IM reference service with one person handling it at the same time they are answering questions at the desk and responding to email queries. So far, our users have been understanding, and IM reference makes up approximately 10% of our reference interactions.

I don’t see this as discriminating against our virtual users. Anyone in customer service will tell you that the person standing in front of you takes priority. The culture of IM is such that a delay in responding is acceptable, if not expected. Chat doesn’t mean that you drop everything else — we’re all used to multi-tasking while having an online conversation. Chat provides a faster back and forth than email, which is why many prefer it for reference interactions, but that doesn’t mean they expect instantaneous service.

The libraries with explicitly stated response times that DLK points out are large institutions serving large populations. My library can get away with fast response times because we might get one or two IM questions an hour, at most. Larger populations result in more questions, and depending on how in-depth those questions are, it may take several hours or longer to respond with all of the information the user is seeking. I often conclude a basic IM reference transaction by providing the student with the contact information for their subject librarian and the personal appointment request form. Some research needs can’t be met exclusively in an online environment.

I get what DLK is trying to say, and I agree that we should treat our online users with the same courtesy we do our in-person users. However, the limitations in online reference tools, staffing, and resources all combine to make it difficult to create a virtual library utopia. We should strive for it, yes, but making librarians feel even more guilty because they can’t do it (for whatever reason) is not going to improve the situation.