Virtual Reference Handbook: Interview and Information Delivery Techniques for the Chat and E‐mail Environments

Renée Goodvin (Sul Ross State University, Alpine, United States of America)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 11 April 2008




Goodvin, R. (2008), "Virtual Reference Handbook: Interview and Information Delivery Techniques for the Chat and E‐mail Environments", The Electronic Library, Vol. 26 No. 2, pp. 278-279.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As a handbook intended for librarians who either already practice virtual reference or are contemplating introducing such a service, the Virtual Reference Handbook: Interview and Information Delivery Techniques for the Chat and E‐mail Environments serves as a handy guide that reviews its topic in a factual and comprehensive way. Kovacs does this by dividing her book into four distinct, yet interrelated chapters that include a discussion of the knowledge and skills that are vital to successful virtual reference services, interviews with experienced virtual librarians, and references to a web‐based companion to the book.

Chapter one reviews the reference interview and stresses how there is a continued need for this basic skill regardless of format. The reader is reminded that professional behavior and performance guidelines still apply in the virtual environment and that the lack of non‐verbal communication has the potential to be problematic.

The rest of the book delves further into the skills and knowledge necessary for virtual reference by devoting individual chapters to:

  • acquiring and improving the necessary technical skills and knowledge to conduct virtual reference (Chapter 2);

  • practicing and expanding communication skills and knowledge (Chapter 3): and

  • maintaining and building virtual reference skills with an appropriate knowledge base.

According to Kovacs, the acquisition of technical competencies for the virtual reference librarian is essential and includes everything from basic keyboarding skills to the ability to use a scanner so that materials can be transferred to the user. Librarians who feel that they need to improve these skills are referred to “learning activities”, which in turn point to the web‐based companion and allow for practice.

The importance of the reference interview is once again emphasized in Chapter 3, but in terms of practicing and expanding virtual communication skills and knowledge. “Good” and “bad” chat reference interviews are debated, responding to and empathizing with the virtual reference user is highlighted, and the question of follow‐up, referrals, and consultations are considered.

The focus of the final chapter is maintaining and building virtual reference skills through an appropriate knowledge base. Although she admits that her list is not comprehensive, Kovacs attempts to give the virtual reference librarian such a knowledge base by compiling a list of things to consider.

During my first reading I questioned whether or not the information presented in this book was really useful to me. It seemed upon first glance that Kovacs was repeating things that I already knew. It only made sense to me that traditional reference skills should be put into practice in the virtual environment.

However, a second reading made me realize that while we know that traditional reference skills should be applied virtually and technical skills are a necessary part of virtual services, they should be carefully considered and implemented when offering virtual reference.

Therefore, I believe that the book has more to offer than one might initially think and it would be useful for those who are in the planning stages of a virtual reference service as it highlights a variety of things to reflect on when doing so. In addition, it might also be useful for the seasoned virtual reference librarian who is searching for a way to evaluate his or her skills.

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