Snapshot from the North American Virtual Reference Conference 2019

Missed out on the North American Virtual Reference conference? Recordings from all sessions are now available in the conference Archives.

Our AskAway colleague Ean Henninger, from SFU Library, presented at the conference and has shared a snapshot from the round of lightning talks Communication Strategies and Best Practices:

Hi all,

Here is a brief writeup on my experience attending and presenting at part of the North American Virtual Reference conference. I only attended for an hour due to a surprise snow day, but it was time well spent.

The lightning talks in the Communication Strategies and Best Practices session started with an empirical study from Judith Logan and Kathryn Barrett at U of Toronto Libraries looking at the role of formality in chat reference. They crunched the numbers on hundreds of chat logs and compared them with satisfaction surveys to look for relationships, and they found that informality could make dissatisfaction less likely with undergraduates (though it does not necessarily increase satisfaction), though formality was more valuable when chatting with faculty and when answering research questions.

This talk highlighted the need to take context and audiences into account, as did my session, which talked about communication accommodation theory (CAT) as a way to increase positive perceptions and outcomes, structure our training, and reflect on our practice. Matching the style of people we chat with is something that many virtual reference providers already suggest, and CAT helps to unpack how and why that can be helpful. The research on CAT looks at different strategies that facilitate similarity, clarity, emotional expression, and more, and it invites people to consider how motivations, personalities, and power dynamics can influence our online interactions.

For the last talk, Clare Sobotka and Joanna Milner from Oregon shared how they created and documented best practices for a statewide chat reference service. One thing that I thought was especially cool was that they made their best practices publicly available and put a Creative Commons license on them, meaning that the material can be adapted by other libraries with attribution.

Overall, attending a virtual conference was a new and interesting experience, and I will be sure to listen to some of the other sessions when their recordings are made available. You can see the conference program here, and keep an eye on it for recordings too!