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Bridging physical and virtual reference with virtual research consultations

Heidi Steiner (Kreitzberg Library, Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 16 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to discuss merging the virtual learning environment of online students with the traditionally face‐to‐face, physical service of research consultations in the form of virtual research consultations (VRCs).


A literature review discusses the importance of instruction in virtual reference, how to combat inherit challenges and foster an instructional experience during virtual reference interactions, and the value of research consultations. The case study then examines how the Distance Learning Librarian at Norwich University implemented a VRC service.


Based on the ease of maintenance, number of appointments made and verbal feedback from students, VRCs are a valuable addition to virtual reference services for online students. They facilitate instruction in reference, foster relationship building, and also prove a considerable tool for outreach.

Practical implications

The case study provides an example of a service that can be implemented at other institutions. The author also discusses alternative technology options.


There is little discussion in the literature of research consultations being incorporated into virtual reference services. With the growing focus in academia on online education and increasing accessibility of tools to foster a rich virtual learning environment, research consultations are a natural next step in virtual reference.



Steiner, H. (2011), "Bridging physical and virtual reference with virtual research consultations", Reference Services Review, Vol. 39 No. 3, pp. 439-450.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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