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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > April 2003
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Vol. 23 No. 4 — April 2003
Here's Your Guide to VR; Use It to Stay Relevant
by Kathy Dempsey

I've used a few different chat reference services, and they've worked just great. Some have been library services, but others were for catalog customer service. It's really helpful to be able to e-mail a clothing company in real time and ask "Do these green pants, item #021B, go with the green sweater I saw 4 pages later, item #044X?" And in fact I'm more confident ordering from a place that provides this service, because I know there's less chance of having to ship an item back. Everyone wants to avoid hassles like that.

Your library can offer that level of customer service. It may be a hassle for people to get on their bicycles or into their cars or onto the buses to go to the library just to get answers to a couple of simple questions. Wouldn't it be easier for them to just chat from home? Of course.

If you're thinking "We already offer phone and e-mail reference, and that's good enough," then you're missing the boat. Take a look around. Remind yourself how libraries are in danger these days: Funds are being slashed, state libraries are being threatened, branches are closing, and the Internet is luring the information-seeking public. It's imperative that you keep up with the times in order to survive.

Your phone reference is useful; keep up the good work. But I think that your e-mail reference is useless unless you can answer within a few hours, tops. Remember the phrase of the decade—instant gratification. Why should anyone e-mail a question to you and wait hours or days for an answer when they can search the Internet right now? Most of the public doesn't care whether the Net's answer is the best answer; they only care that they can get it now. Your niche, your area of value, is that you can do both: Librarians can provide the best answer, now.

If your excuse is "I don't know how to start a virtual reference service" or "It's too time-consuming" or "We don't have the staff" or "It will cost a fortune," we've shattered all those myths in this issue. Our features cover administrative start-up considerations, sharing time and staff and money by being one small part of a large collaborative service, choosing your software, and managing a project. There's no need for anybody to reinvent the wheel here. Onethoughtful author has even created a supplemental Web page just for CIL readers that shares all his core competencies, customer feedback forms, evaluation checklists, and more.

There's no reason to go it alone with virtual reference. Use the wealth of this resource to get started this year!

Kathy Dempsey, Editor

Kathleen L. Dempsey is the Editor of Computers in Libraries. Her email address is:

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