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Best Practices Guidelines

Page history last edited by Lisa Chaudhuri 2 years, 8 months ago

Best Practices Guidelines


The following guidelines were collaboratively compiled by the AJCU VR Project Coordinators at the 2014-2015 Annual Coordinators' Meeting. They have been adapted from the AJCU Virtual Reference Best Practices Report (pdf) which was approved via email by the VR Coordinators on July 15, 2015 and updated on November 17, 2016. 


Level of formality to use with patrons

  • Match the patron’s tone if it feels appropriate
    • This will depend on the librarian’s comfort level


Type of language to use with patrons

  • Use basic English
    • Try to keep the language as clear and simple as possible
    • Avoid slang and library jargon


Use open ended questions to gather more information from patrons

  • Examples:
    • Could you please elaborate?
    • I need some clarification on…
    • Can you describe your assignment?
    • Where have you looked so far?


Providing detailed information/instructions to patrons

  • Break up the information into digestible chunks
  • When providing patrons with step by step instructions, after providing them with a step, it is helpful to say “tell me when you are there” or “describe what you see”
  • When appropriate, teach the patron how to get the information they need as opposed to doing it for them


What to do while researching a question for a patron

  • If the research is going to take more than a few moments, it is helpful to check in with the patron periodically and let them know that you are still with them
  • It is also helpful to narrate the steps you are taking
    • For example: “I’m searching the catalog by title to see if we own that book”


Assisting patrons from other institutions

  • The librarian does not necessarily need to identify to the patron that they are from another institution
    •  However, sometimes it may become helpful to let them know
      •  For example: when dealing with local policy questions
  •  Tagging a question for follow-up/referrals
    •  When tagging a question for follow-up by the local library, it is necessary to ask the patron for contact information before ending the chat
      •  This is the only way the local institution will be able to get in contact with the patron
      •  Be sure to inform the patron that this option is voluntary; if the patron would prefer not to disclose their contact information, provide for them direct contact information (phone or email) for their local library’s reference desk or appropriate reference staff
    •  Consider impact of referral on patron
      •  Is it after hours?
      •  Is the question assignment-specific?
    •  Use the “tag for follow-up” feature in LibraryH3lp’s chat platform
      •  The email address provided by the local library in their online profile, and connected to the “tag for follow-up” feature (button), is always the most appropriate and efficient email address to send the transcript to for follow-up with the patron
      •  Possible exception: when it is clear a subject specialist librarian will be best able to assist the patron with their research
        •  But even in this scenario, it is better practice to give the patron the subject specialist’s contact information, and then tag for follow-up using the built-in platform feature, rather than manually send the transcript to the subject specialist librarian yourself, since the tag for follow-up email address is guaranteed to be monitored by the local library staff
    • Follow-up time frame

      • When advising a patron about a follow-up time frame it is best to say that someone will be with them “as soon as possible” as opposed to promising a specific time as each institution has a different staffing model

      • The number to that institution's service desk can be provided in case the patron needs more immediate assistance 

  • Please refrain from making judgmental comments about the collections, websites, or organization of another institution


Things to consider when assisting patrons with lengthy/in-depth questions

  • Who is the best librarian to assist this patron? Would a subject specialist be able to better answer their question?
  • What are the patron’s time constraints?
  • Point out that they can mail themselves a copy of the transcript for future reference
  • Note the difference between a researcher who is a tech savvy researcher, a scholarly researcher, both, or neither.  
    • Some researchers have high tech skills but struggle with basic bibliographic citation information  
    • Some researchers are quite scholarly but have undeveloped tech skills  
    • Determine the skill level of the researcher and adjust your chat accordingly
  • If you are helping someone else, please put your icon to busy rather than accepting a new chat and immediately asking the patron to hold  
    • Once a chat is initiated, it is fine to ask the patron to hang on while you work on the request, or wait while you address a competing request, but it isn’t right to accept the chat (and keep another librarian from answering) and then ask the patron to wait for you


Transferring patrons

  • Treat transitions in the virtual environment as we would in-person
  • Give options: tag for follow-up or transfer to next on duty with explanation


Ending a chat

  • It is helpful at the end of a chat to give the patron an opportunity to ask further questions
    • This can be done by asking questions like:
      • Does this answer your question?
      • Is there anything else I can help you with?
  • Other positive ways to end a chat:
    • Thank the patron for using the service
    • Invite them to come back if they have further questions
    • Wish them a good day/night 


Other tips and thoughts

  • Sometimes people just want the article
    • Do still share the steps involved, but keep in mind that’s not always what people want
    • If the chat resolves in the librarian emailing the patron the article(s), include in the email the steps taken to find and retrieve the article(s)
  • Demonstrate your ‘amazing library powers’ of finding items fast—use this as the hook, and then show them how you did it
  • Help users to learn to plan for the next time when they need a subject specialist (time management)
  • Screen share applications/programs:
  • Be encouraging/supportive with words like “great” or “good choice” or “those are good search terms”
  • It’s a good idea to check on what assignment materials (aka LibGuides) are readily available at the patron’s institution already
  • If you encounter questionable or inappropriate behavior, you should send a warning message and then terminate the chat question. For example:  
    •  “Can I help you with a research/library-related question?” (if the patron’s opening greeting is ambiguous as to their purpose for engaging the chat service)
    •  “This is not an appropriate use of our service.  Unfortunately, I will need to end this session.”


Additional resources for virtual reference


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