Technologies Toolbox

There are four cateogories of tools listed below.  Collaborative services are used among multiple participating libraries working together to provide VR services throughout the day and night.  The chat tools that are listed include both free and proprietary resources that can be used to answer live reference questions.  There are also library-specific tools for answering reference questions as well as complimentary tools that can be used to answer questions in non-traditional ways.

*Note: As technologies are constantly changing, the following is just a sample of the many tools available for providing virtual reference services. Tools with a ($) after them require a fee; the others are free to use.

Collaborative services
Chat tools
Reference specific tools
Complimentary tools

1) Collaborative services

  • QuestionPoint (OCLC) ($)
    • A reference management system that integrates a web-based chat tool (with co-browsing capability), email, and a chat widget.  Has reporting tools and libraries can opt to participate in the 24/7 Reference Cooperative to provide live around-the-clock reference service to their community.

2) Chat tools

  • Google Chat/Talk and Google+ Hangouts
    • Google Talk can be used through a web interace or a desktop client and supports both instant messaging and video chat. Google+ Hangouts offer video chat for up to 15 participants at a time. 
  • aim
    • This long-lived instant messaging protocol works on most operating systems and also offers apps for mobile devices. Video chat is available as long as both parties have recent versions of the client.
  • Yahoo Messenger
    • This instant messaging client allows video chat only through its desktop client for Windows and Mac. Voice chat is also available through the desktop client.
  • Microsoft Lync ($)
    • Designed for virtual meetings, Lync works only through a client and supports instant messaging, voice chat, and video chat, and also allows recording.
  • phpLive ($)
    • Geared toward customer service chat on websites, phpLive has features like canned responses, incoming chat routing, and the ability to automatically invite a visitor to chat.

3) Reference-specific tools

  • Knowledge Tracker (Compendium Library Services) ($)
    • Manages and tracks all your email transactions, provides detailed records and statistics about questions, and allows you to manage workflow among staff.
  • LibAnswers (Springshare) ($)
    • Manages chat, email, and SMS reference interactions, with widgets that can be embedded anywhere. Integrates a knowledge base function to help users get answers more quickly.
  • Libraryh3lp (open source) ($)
    • Chat platform, with an optional add-on SMS package. Widgets can be embedded anywhere, and libraries can create their own custom knowledge bases.
  • Mosio/TextaLibrarian ($)
    • Web-based software for receiving and sending text messages, email, and chats. Also offers the ability to create a knowledge base.
  • RefChatter (Altarama) ($)
    • Web-based software that handles text messages and chat. Provides options for managing workflow and recording interactions.
  • RefTracker (Altarama) ($)
    • System that manages and tracks email, web-form questions, chat, and texting. Many ways to manage workflow among staff and record and count interactions.
  • VRLplus (Altarama) ($)
    • Chat reference tool that includes page/URL pushing, personal and shared libraries of scripted replies, bookmarks, and files, stats and transcript management, and queue and routing management.

4) Complimentary tools

  • Jing (some features $)
    • Screen capture software for creating images or short videos.  Great for when a visual response is needed in place of or in addition to text.
  • Facebook
    • As more and more libraries have their own Facebook pages, this is yet another virtual place where patrons are asking reference questions, either by wall posts or messages.
  • Twitter
    • Patrons will sometimes ask a question by direct message or by tagging the library in their tweet.  Either way, the challenge is answering in 140 characters or less!
  • Hootsuite
    • A great place to manage multiple social media accounts including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, foursquare, MySpace, and others.  Also has a URL shortener.
  • Twitlonger
    • When answering a question on Twitter and 140 characters is not enough, this resource allows you to type a comprehensive response and then posts the link in the Twitter response.
  • TinyURL
    • Allows you to shorten a URL for easier posting in email, a print handout, or your favorite social media website.
  • Second Life
    • A 3D virtual world where “avatars” can interact.  There are numerous libraries and librarians in this world where patrons can ask questions.
  • Skype (some features $)
    • A tool that can be used to provide face-to-face reference support without being in the same location.  Video and voice calls to others in Skype as well as instant messaging are free.

To find out what other libraries are using worldwide for their VR services, check out the list at LIS Wiki's Chat Reference Libraries webpage.