There are many softwares available to help libraries provide virtual reference services. Considerations such as cost, technical capabilities/support, staff familiarity, patron needs and challenges, and how quickly you want to get started will all factor into decisions about which tools might work best for your library. Of course, technology changes rapidly and tools come and go, but the information in this module should help you begin your exploration.
Check out this list of VR tools commercially available for providing virtual reference services. These may include synchronous (chat), asynchronous (email), or complementary functions such as quick video creation.
- Staff will need training in the various tools if they are not using them already. Determine how much time you want to devote to training to help you assess whether a tool will work for your library or not. See also the Skills/Training page for more information on training staff for virtual reference service.
- Technical set-up should take into consideration use of the supporting software by patrons and reference staff with disabilities. Some options include choosing software that complies with section 508 of the Rehabiliation Act, software with non-text options such as voice-over-IP, or providing text on the Web site that directs screen readers to an email form or alternate contact information. ("Nondiscrimination under Federal grants and programs: Electronic and information technology," Title 29 U.S. Code, Pt. 794d 2004 ed.)
- Resources (a list of articles and other information sources to help decide which tools are best for your institution).