So much has been going on in my own Librarian Causal Domain that I haven’t been sure what to post about; keeping things simple seems the way to go. So does keeping things positive, and I’ve been having some extremely positive experiences with digital reference lately. So, here are things I enjoy about chatting with patrons and answering their questions online:
- It gives me a lot of practice. Between my weekly shift on Cornell chat reference, and my biweekly shift monitoring 40+ queues for the nation and state co-ops in which we participate, I end up answering more true questions within an hour or two than I might otherwise see all week, depending on the time of year. I almost feel like one of the folks who use online poker to train for Vegas; there’s nothing like handling multiple reference interviews — sometimes simultaneously — to hone your skills.
- I dig the pace of the interactions. Not only does the chat format allow me to handle multiple questions at once, it also brings with it the assumption that there will be pauses in the interaction. I confess that if I need to track down three leads before I find whatever it is the patron needs, it feels more comfortable to tell them I’ll be a couple of minutes and come back to them with the right answer than to have them sitting and watching me investigate. (Might be more comfortable for them, too: they get to keep working on their own things, and don’t have to listen to me talk to myself.)
- It forces me to learn new systems. For the external chat stuff, I’ll usually need to dig through new library web sites, catalogs, policy pages, and so forth in order to answer questions. Even within Cornell, I’m dealing with collections and services that are unfamiliar to me almost as often as I get to use the ones that have become second nature to me through my reference work here at Catherwood. This kind of perspective change tends to help me improve at something for which my skill has plateaued, and combined with point #1 I feel like this is the best thing I can be doing right now for my reference chops.
So that’s my simple, positive, and slightly long-winded take on why I like digital reference. If y’all spend your time chatting with patrons through the marvelous interwebs, what do you think of it?