Social Networking Tools in Virtual Reference

Social Networking Tools in Virtual Reference

Nadim Akhtar Khan (Department of Library and Information Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India), Huma Shafiq (Department of Library and Information Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India), Sabiha Zehra Rizvi (Government Medical College Srinagar, Srinagar, India) and Samah Mushtaq (Department of Library and Information Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India)
DOI: 10.4018/IJVCSN.2015070104
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The rapid advancements in web and availability of growing number of free social networking tools have greatly influenced the present day communication mechanisms. These tools have provided cheaper, instant and faster methods of communicating information irrespective of geographical and time barriers. Users especially the younger generation is much familiar with the use of such tools and modern libraries are experiencing rapid changes in user perceptions and information seeking patterns. Owing to the ease of accessibility of plethora of information resources via cell phones, tablets using smart apps, libraries are revisiting their methods of information delivery. Many libraries are using social networking tools for handling user queries and advertising their library products especially in Virtual Reference Services (VRS). Virtual reference is reference service initiated electronically where patrons employ computers or other technology to communicate with public services staff without being physically present. Communication channels used frequently in virtual reference include chat, video-conferencing, voice-over-IP, co-browsing, e-mail, and instant messaging (Reference and User Services Association [RUSA] Guidelines, 2010). It primarily refers to a network of expertise, intermediation and resources placed at the disposal of someone seeking answers in an online environment (Berube, 2003). It has brought about tremendous change in the concept of reference services in terms of information dissemination and user satisfaction. Various initiatives have already been taken to develop standards, guidelines and procedures for setting up successful digital reference systems. Virtual reference has emerged as a new powerful method of delivering reference and information service to a vast number of clientele distributed globally. It includes seamless access to global resources and the collection of knowledge for reference access, coupled with complementary access to information on the internet. It has brought about tremendous change in the concept of reference services in terms of information dissemination and user satisfaction. The seamless influence of Social Networking tools on virtual reference is quite evident and trend is fast shifting towards incorporating such tools in libraries at global level. These tools not only solve the problems of communicating in real time environment in all modes ranging from instant messaging to audio/visuals but also provide ample opportunities for libraries to retain their users. The present work thus discusses the concept of Virtual Reference Service and possible use of different Social Networking tools in present day Virtual Reference Systems for successfully addressing user queries.
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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, 2004). Virtual Reference Services (VRS) is a service that, based on the experience of traditional services developed within an information technology environment, satisfies user’s information and knowledge needs in an interactive, participative, customized, and collaborative way (Hamad, 2012). VRS are well-established offerings that have existed for more than twenty years including email and live chat. VRS are accessed through library websites and are evolving to enhance users’ experience, increasingly allowing entry through text-messaging, mobile devices, and social networking sites. The promise of high-quality, accurate, and effective VRS is considered to be endangered by difficult economic times that continue to negatively impact library funding and consortia. Cyber Synergy researchers hope to alleviate such difficulties, by exploring social question and answer services models, which provide crowd-sourced opportunities, and to provide effective ways to connect users’ subject-related questions to specialists (Radford, Connaway, Mikitish, Alpert, Shah & Cooke, 2013). Many of these candidate technologies found homes and became ingrained in the practice of digital/virtual reference. There are a number of other options, of course: SMS or text messaging, for example, or incorporation into a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace, both of which have been attempted (Janes, 2008). VR has redefined reference services by extending the scope of the traditional reference desk and allowing distant patrons the access and ability to create dialogue with a librarian when in need of assistance. VR is important for patrons who need quick instruction on how to find a piece of information or a quick refresher on how to use a database. Patrons are becoming more accustomed to communicating with online services. This is evidenced by the rapid growth in the use of virtual social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. Patrons are “net-savvy” and have familiarity with connecting to information through wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, and other technologically enhanced formats (Ryan, Daugherty & Mauldin, 2006).

For centuries, libraries have been a place where people gathered to share and communicate with one another. Social networking websites are the 21st century way for communicating via mass email, online bulletin boards, and calendars to a large group of people. Furthermore, social networking websites could enable librarians and patrons not only to interact, but to share and change resources dynamically in an electronic medium. By having a social networking website, the library is opening its doors to those who are comfortable with technology and who want library services 24/7 (Teen services 2.0., n. d.). Farak as cited in McManus (2009) states that especially academic libraries should try to create more value with social networking profiles “by offering a space for patron to give feedback, by providing news and information, or by providing a portal to library services”. This would allow for more patron interaction where the patron may feel more comfortable and willing to give more candid feedback about library services. Also, by engaging students and patrons within an online social network, academic libraries can keep in touch with the informational trends and needs of these groups.

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