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Week 5: Instant messaging and VoIP reference services

25 Aug

In this digital era, virtual reference services become an indispensable part of reference services in almost all the libraries. The main media for these services are emails, instant messaging (IM) and VoIP. The following table is the picture of the current reference services types in my mind:

 reference types-week5

Instant messaging and VoIP are normally considered as synchronous tools using by librarians (Ponting, 2013, para. 5). They are similar to face-to-face reference service. The users are expecting to get the answers at once. If they use email, they usually could not get the answers as fast as in the synchronous communications.

According to the nature of the question, the patron, the librarian and the situation, a question might be best to be asked online by using IM or/and VoIP. For simple, direct questions, people may prefer using online services. Comparing to the face to face reference, the virtual service is external service, because there is certain distance between the patron and the librarian. So, people may think virtual reference service lacks real person contact. It seems hard to get a satisfied result through online communication channel for a complex query. Without seeing/feeling the body language clearly, the barriers of the communication are more in online consultations. However, sometime people prefer to ask librarian through the internet, because they could not arrive in the physical place. In addition to it, the evolving technologies keep enriching the ways that the online services can do. For example, people can use attachment (for audio/video, images and other kinds of documents) when they chat (or use Skype) with the librarians now. Through video calling, the difference between the two becomes smaller.

The preference between IM and VoIP varies among different people. Most people are used to only use IM in the library, even VoIP are prepared for them. For example, the usage rate of Skype a Librarian services was much lower than the usage rate of IM reference services in Ohio University (Booth, 2010). But, the development of the technologies and the changing of the experience might push people to use VoIP more. Booth (2010) states that the students might find Skype to be the most convenient tools in library reference service in the future. Thus, some libraries have already integrated VoIP into online chat interface.


Ponting, D. (2013). INN333 Information Organisation: Learning resources: Week 5: Synchronous and asynchronous communication tools: Instant messaging. Retrieved 25 August, 2013 from

Booth, C. (2010). Chapter 4: VoIP in Reference, User Services, and Instruction. Library Technology Reports, 46(5), 25-31. Retrieved 25 August, 2013 from