The North American Virtual Reference Online Conference was funded through an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant administered by the Washington State Library. It was a wonderful day to attend a virtual conference, since New Jersey had a snowstorm! The conference opened with a keynote from Miguel Figueroa from the Center for the Future of Libraries. I met Miguel at the ALA Conference at the Sharjah Book Fair in UAE in 2016. He has a great perspective on the future of libraries and the keynote focused on the foresight library professionals need to approach new trends as they apply to virtual reference. He talked specifically about four trends that will impact virtual reference: voice controlled technologies, virtual and augmented reality, physical/digital experiences (phygital), and artificial intelligence. The role of librarians is changing, but foresight can help us position our goals and values in the frameworks of the future.
Next I attended a lightning session called Invitation to Chat: Going from Passive to Proactive Chat Reference at Syracuse University Libraries by Abby Kasowitz-Scheer and Natalie LoRusso from Syracuse University. This session was super relevant since we’re currently planning our proactive chat trial at Rutgers. (When I was on the Syracuse website finding the links for the presenters, I activated the proactive chat and it’s in the bottom right which is also what we’re testing!) They set a delay time on the main website of 40 seconds and 60 seconds for all other sites. They saw a huge increase in chats. They simultaneously ran the static and proactive chat and the proactive chat alone was double their static chat numbers from the previous semester. It also increased the static chat by a lesser extent. They had about a 300% increase overall.
Next, I attended a session called To Chat or Not to Chat? Why Patrons Do/Don’t Use Ask a Librarian by Kelli Herm, a librarian at Tallahassee Community College in Tallahassee, Florida. She conducted a survey with students, faculty, and staff about chat/ask usage. They found a slight majority were aware of the chat/ask service and most respondents had learned about it through library staff, teaching faculty, and the library website. Only around 25% of respondents had actually used the chat or ask-a-librarian service, with more using ask. I missed the end of the day, but the conference was really great! It was super well attended and the sessions were a good mix of practical and theoretical. I hope it becomes a regular thing!