Document Type

Working with New Technologies and Environments

Publication Date



Launching virtual chat reference at the University of Richmond Libraries has been an interesting, multi-year challenge filled with "trial and error." After trying several different software programs and staffing options, librarians have finally selected AOL's Instant Messenger service. Learning about the world of virtual reference has truly been a "moving target" experience for them as software, professional philosophies, and user preferences have changed rapidly in recent years.

This presentation will describe the development of virtual reference and experimentation with different instant messaging software at the University of Richmond Libraries. A brief history that includes early collaborations with the computing services help desk, a variety staffing patterns, technical and financial challenges, and marketing the service to students will be shared. The significant success of the service in the last year will be documented with statistics. Presenters will discuss other pertinent issues, including training, guidelines, advertising, and staffing. This data will touch on a number of themes and learning outcomes, including the value of experimenting with a variety of chat reference software programs, the need for library staff to stay current with new technologies, and a focus on integrating library services into "user technologies." Finally, the presenters will provide concrete examples of the usefulness of archived IM questions for data collection, through which librarians can discover common "point-of-need" queries, and can take action to respond to those needs.