MARS Virtual Reference Discussion Group Planning Committee Update

The topic for the MARS Virtual Reference Discussion group at 2011 ALA Annual was “Mobile Goes Both Ways: Using the iPad for Virtual Reference.”

The presenter was Stephanie Graves, Humanities Librarian at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Libraries. She opened the session with a presentation about SIU-Carbondale Libraries’ use of iPads for roving reference and for operating IM services in non-traditional locations (for more details about this project, see the article in C&RL News she cowrote with Megan Lotts). Her presentation included a wealth of practical information as well as ideas for improving services. The practical information included a description of the genesis of the program, an explanation of how they set up and manage their iTunes account, an explanation of how they maintain the iPads, and a discussion of apps they have found particularly useful for serving patrons and for conducting their own work. She encouraged participants to visit SIU Carbondale’s iPads at MorrisLibGuide for additional information, including a list of apps installed on their iPads.

Group Discussion:
Following Stephanie’s presentation, the thirty-five attendees divided themselves among five tables to discuss possibilities for using iPads for roving reference at their institutions, recommendations for apps, challenges involved in maintaining iPads, strategies for using them for effective reference, and other ideas of interest to them relating to virtual reference. Table notes collected at the end of the session revealed that a wide range of topics arose at the five tables. Those topics included integrating tutorials for virtual (VR) use, developing customized library apps (vs commercial apps); staffing VR services, getting started with VR, mobile reference problems; looking at Springshare’s mobile application builder; problems with DropBox that developed during the conference and discussion of alternative products including Wuala; Lexis-Nexis new mobile app; using roving librarians to back up VR at the desk; problems with iPad docking stations; getting tech like iPads and eReaders for the staff to play with at Kansas State Libraries; QR codes use in museums and need for good wifi for their use; using Facetime for VR; apps for research (Papers, WorldCat, Blackboard app if it works for your campus); VR/traditional reference breakdown; SMS reference, and changes in methods for keeping reference statistics.

Committee News
The Virtual Reference Discussion Group Planning Committee has expanded its membership from 4 members to 7 members. They are: Henry Bankhead (chair-elect), Jason Coleman (chair), Aileen Marshall, Robert Metrick, Julie Piacentine, Amanda Clay Powers, and Jessica Sender. The committee has several goals for the coming year, including:

  • Plan and facilitate Virtual Reference Discussion Fora at ALA Midwinter and ALA Annual. For each, we will identify an exciting emerging trend related to virtual reference and recruit a volunteer to provide a twenty-minute presentation to stimulate small group discussions.
  • Update the committee’s public page on the ALA website. We plan to include lists of past members as well as lists of past topics for the Discussion Fora at Midwinter and Annual. When possible, the list of topics will include links to notes and presentation materials.
  • Establish and promote a public page on ALA connect for soliciting suggestions for future topics for Discussion Fora.