AALL Spectrum Blog


The AALL Spectrum® Blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. The previous Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
5/6/2013 11:13:23 AM

Book Review: Implementing Virtual Reference Services

Thomsen-Scott, Beth C., ed., Implementing Virtual Reference Services (Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2013), 152 pp., incl. index and Suggested Reading list. ISBN: 978-1-55570-899-3, $70.00 (paper).

“Virtual reference” is a concept that still sounds intimidating to many librarians – even as what is meant by it is now a dominant aspect of how librarians of all kinds, working in all types of institutions and organizations, actually provide services to patrons. At its simplest, “virtual reference” simply means any kind of reference transaction where the librarian and the patron are interacting using an electronic communication channel (1). It can include communication by e-mail, chat, a specific service or product such as Facebook, Second Life, Skype or Twitter, or any other current or future technology.

The very nature of law librarianship, with library patrons who can include attorneys working in offices around the world, students and professors on and off campus, judges, court employees, and members of the public makes it particularly important for law librarians to understand and use the tools and techniques necessary to implement effective virtual reference services. This book does just that – it brings together several short, readable essays on best practices in virtual reference services. This makes it valuable to any law librarian who is interested in reviewing and evaluating the many different technologies that can be used for virtual reference, and in learning about how these technologies have been used in real-world settings. It is obviously not a designed for a law library’s general collection, but as a work by and for librarians, it serves a particular and valuable purpose.

As with the other titles in the LITA Guide series of American Library Association books, the volume opens with an introduction that reviews the main qualities any library must consider when designing and implementing a virtual reference service, such as selecting appropriate technologies, establishing a reasonable staffing policy, training the actual staff, marketing the service, and evaluating and accessing any outcomes. The introduction also introduces several of the most common technologies that libraries actually use for providing virtual reference services.

The book’s main content is a set of eight individual essays. Several of these overview the features of a particular virtual reference technology and demonstrate how it has been used in one or more settings. The actual technologies that the chapters highlight include Twitter, Google Voice, instant messaging services in general, and even text messages, and the settings include several major research universities, an urban public library, and two library consortia. Some of the chapters emphasize the technologies, or services themselves, while others place more focus on the actual library systems and how the virtual reference service in general has been viewed by librarians and patrons. Each chapter is written by a professional librarian and structured for easy reading. Logical subdivisions, prominent section headings, frequent bullet points and text boxes, and numerous illustrations (primarily screenshots) make them easy to read and handy to use as guides. The language the authors use is generally professional, rather than academic, and the works cited sections are essentially suggestions for further reading than formal bibliographies. However, the volume also includes an excellent Suggest Reading list of relevant books, journal articles, papers, websites, and other materials that have been published on virtual reference in the last twenty or so years.

Probably the most interesting of the eight chapters, and certainly one that may be of most use to law librarians, focuses neither on a particular technology nor on a particular institution, but rather, on the broader idea of librarians embedded directly in virtual user communities using those communities’ tools to provide reference services. So, a librarian can be assigned as a research specialist to a class, and participate in the online discussions that the class’s students hold on a particular platform such as a forum, blog, or specialized discussion group. This is one of the longest chapters in the book, and perhaps the most intensely scholarly.

However, any law librarian who is considering this book should keep at least two things in mind. It is ultimately a volume that is focused on applications of particular technologies, not on general concepts. It does not – and cannot – address all of the possible technologies that a library can use for virtual reference For example, several libraries, both at law schools and in law firms, have been using the Altarama RefTracker product to manage virtual interactions with their patrons, but this service, and others similar to it, such as the Eos.Web Reference Tracking module, are not discussed at all, while LibAnswers only received a cursory overview in the opening chapter. Technologies change, and a guide to using technologies is only good until the next big change. Perhaps more importantly, none of the case studies and examples collected in this book feature a law library setting. They are useful as general guides, but not as templates. And, as with many case studies in library science, there is always the concern that a self-selection bias is in play, and the results that are presented are the best-case scenarios, and not representative of other attempts that were not as successful – examples of what Losee and Worley famously referred to as the “’how I done it good’ genre” (2) of publications in librarianship.

At the same time, even as an introduction and a collection of general guides, the value of this book is undeniable. Law librarians at law schools, law firms, courts, and public law libraries are practicing virtual reference every day. (3) And just as we work to meet the information needs of our libraries’ patrons, this book does a good job of meeting our own information needs.

Mikhail Koulikov is the Reference/Research Librarian at the New York Law Institute.


(1) Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services, Reference and User Services Ass’n, American Library Ass’n (2004), http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines/virtrefguidelines.


(3) See Yasmin Morais & Sara Sampson, A Content Analysis of Chat Transcripts in the Georgetown law Library, 29 LEGAL REFERENCE SERVICES Q. 165 (2010); Christina Luini, Virtual Reference Service: A Case Study of QuestionPoint Utilization at the Gallagher Law Library (May 29, 2012) (unpublished MLIS paper, University of Washington),

Posted By Ashley St. John at 5/6/2013 11:13:23 AM  0 Comments
4/24/2013 1:29:55 PM

The May Issue of Spectrum is Now Available on AALLNET

We hope you enjoy the articles from the latest issue of Spectrum and encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback using the "comments" link below!

Public Relations: Architecture, Logos, and Brands—Oh My!
What's a library to do?
By Kathy Fletcher

Spectrum's 13th Annual Architecture Series
Read about two new buildings and four remodels/renovations from two public law libraries, one law firm, and three academic libraries
By Mark E. Estes

A Monument Gets a Makeover
Tackling the challenges of an urban renovation at the San Diego County Public Law Library
By John W. Adkins

Modern Spaces, Changing Light
Perkins Coie gets a unique and colorful makeover
By Amy Eaton

Building with Vision
The birth of Concordia University School of Law and George R. White Law Library
By Phillip Gragg

Blending Tradition and Technology
The University of Missouri-Kansas City Leon E. Bloch Law Library has completed its first phase of renovations
By Paul D. Callister and Michael J. Robak

Going Green and Repurposing Space
The University of Baltimore debuts its new law center, slated to receive LEED Platinum certification
By Clement Chu-Sing Lau and Mary Elizabeth Murtha

A Symbol of the Rule of Law
The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center consolidates the Judicial Department into a single iconic building
By Dan Cordova

Venturing Beyond Seattle
Traveling outside the Annual Meeting's host city
By Anna L. Endter

Will Google Books Library Project End Copyright?
Millions of magazines hidden in Google Books Library Project endanger U.S. copyright
By Barbara Kevles

Promoting Access to Justice with Your Local Public Library
Collaborating with the public library system on legal resource programs for public librarians
By Joseph D. Lawson

Empowering the Next Generation of Law Firm Librarians
Projecting our value to law firm management
By Scott D. Bailey and Emily R. Florio

Finding an Elegant Solution to a Failed Wiki
Surveying versus scanning
By Sally Wambold

From the Editor
Paying Attention: Design, Communication, Education
By Mark E. Estes

From the President
Rethinking Along the Strategic Continuum
By Jean M. Wenger

From the Treasurer
A Look at AALL's 2012 Fiscal Year
By Susan J. Lewis

Washington Brief
Congratulations to the 2013 Recipients of the PAGI and Oakley Advocacy Awards!
By Emily Feltren

The Reference Desk
In the evenings and on weekends, students study at my desk, eat there, and adjust the height of my chair to suit themselves. I realize that I have little control over that, but I wish that they would clean up after themselves and leave my stuff alone. I don't know how to address this. Is it too much to expect that my space be left alone?
By Susan Catterall

The Sustainable Law Librarian
"I'm Investing in What?"
By David Selden

Member to Member
What is your favorite library building, space, or area?

Views from You
Views of participants beginning to arrive at the 31st Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, hosted by The University of Oregon Law School in Eugene

The CRIV Sheet
Volume 35, No. 3

Posted By Ashley St. John at 4/24/2013 1:29:55 PM  0 Comments
TOPICS: spectrum
4/22/2013 12:03:17 PM

Canadian Law Library Review (Vol. 38, No. 2) is available

The most recent issue of Canadian Law Library Review/Revue canadienne des bibliothèques de droit (38:2) features the first installment of a projected 4-part article by Janet Moss about the history of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries/Association canadienne des bibliothèques de droit. It’s likely that few AALL members realize that this association (hereafter referred to by the English acronym, CALL) was originally a chapter of AALL, until it was felt that the numbers were sufficient to justify a separate association. The split took place in 1971 and this process was documented in a previous article written by Margaret Banks ((1988) 13: Special Issue CALL Newsletter).

Moss’s article takes over where Banks left off and covers the period 1988 to 2012. This first offering deals with matters of governance, structure and administration. In common with so many organizations, CALL has been concerned with membership recruitment, strategic planning and, of course, finances. In addition, governing an association with a relatively small membership dispersed over a large geographical area, and maintaining a bilingual presence, are issues that may be unique to CALL.  Moss describes all this, as well as CALL’s Oral History Project, the establishment of the CALL Archives, promotion of the association and of the profession and recognition of volunteers. We look forward to the next installment of this fascinating glimpse into the past.

The current issue of Can L Libr Rev (that’s the official acronym!) also contains a summary of an interview with Viola Bird that was done in connection with CALL’s Oral History Project. Although, technically, Viola was not a President of CALL but rather the President of AALL when CALL was a chapter, she had strong ties to Canada and is known for a survey she completed for the National Library of Canada concerning Law Library Resources in Canada. She was also the first Honoured Member of CALL.

Yemisi Dina, Associate Librarian at Osgoode Hall Law School, describes her experiences at the Law of the Internet Conference, 2012, held at Cornell University. Her report may strike a chord with others who attended this conference.

AALL members who are unfamiliar with Canadian Law Library Review may also be interested in browsing the book reviews, bibliographic notes, and the reports from law librarians in other countries that are a staple of this publication. For more information about CALL or Can L Libr Rev, see http://www.callacbd.ca or contact office@callacbd.ca .

Wendy Hearder-Moan,
Associate Editor
Canadian Law Library Review/Revue canadienne des bibliothèques de droit

Posted By Ashley St. John at 4/22/2013 12:03:17 PM  0 Comments