Virtual Reference: A Selected Annotated Bibliography | ALA Library Fact Sheet 19

Virtual Reference: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

ALA Library Fact Sheet 19

Definitions | Web Resources | Guidelines | Email Discussion Groups | Book Resources | Journal Articles | Vendors & Platforms

This fact sheet offers a selection of articles, web resources, and some vendor information that will provide an introduction to the issues to consider when considering implementing virtual reference services. The American Library Association cannot make specific product recommendations.

Also see the resources collected by this office at Virtual Reference on the ALA Professional Tips Wiki.

Librarians seeking information not included in these sources are referred to the Library Literature & Information Science Index.


Virtual reference is reference service initiated electronically, often in real-time, where patrons employ computers or other Internet technology to communicate with reference staff, without being physically present. Communication channels used frequently in virtual reference include chat, videoconferencing, Voice over IP, co-browsing, e-mail, and instant messaging. (RUSA Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services, 2010 [PDF])

Reference services requested and provided over the Internet, usually via e-mail, instant messaging (“chat”), or Web-based submission forms, usually answered by librarians in the reference department of a library, sometimes by the participants in a collaborative reference system serving more than one institution. Synonymous with chat reference, e-reference, online reference, real-time reference, and virtual reference. (ODLIS definition of Digital Reference)

via Virtual Reference: A Selected Annotated Bibliography | Professional Tools.

We provided real time chat reference at my library for a few years. At the time it didn’t catch on. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try again, especially if our user community asks for it. Until then, they seem genuinely happy with e-mail and phone. But that’s our community, not yours. Listen to your community.

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