Skill 2. Evaluate Online Reference Transactions for Improvement

Skill 2. Ability to evaluate online reference transactions and apply improvement strategies to enhance service quality in virtual reference.

This skill addresses competency in using a variety of tools and approaches to provide training, evaluate service quality, and apply improvement strategies to enhance virtual reference service. Suggested examples for achieving this competency include:

Evaluation Methods:

  • Create a "Best Practices Checklist" or rubric for assessing service quality.

  • Review and score a sample of transcripts from previous virtual reference sessions to measure service quality and identify training needs to enhance skills.

  • In small groups, review transcripts for best practices and/or achievement of specific goals. Provide learning feedback to your peers and identify areas needing improvement while recognizing good habits. 

  • Read user feedback from surveys to gauge the level of service quality from the users’ perspective and identify areas where the level of user satisfaction can be improved.

Improvement Strategies:

  • Read transcripts from previous virtual reference sessions to reflect on your techniques and to learn from your colleagues’ successful strategies. 

  • Sit in on another virtual reference service provider’s shift to observe and learn how to conduct an online reference transaction.

  • Be a secret shopper and use another institution’s virtual reference service as an anonymous user to learn how virtual reference works from a user’s perspective. 

  • Read the professional literature to stay current on trends and issues in virtual reference, online communication literacy, assessment and evaluation, and technology.

  • Participate in informal discussions, staff meetings, online conversations, etc.,  with peers to maintain an understanding of the evolving service needs of your library’s users.


Hirko, Buff and Mary Bucher Ross. Virtual Reference Training: The Complete Guide to Providing Anytime, Anywhere Answers. Chicago: American Library Association, 2004. See esp. chap. 7, "Learning Activities: Taking the User Perspective,"  and appendix D, "Secret Patron Scenarios."

Minkin, Rachel, and Suzanne Bernsten. "What Makes Great Virtual Reference Service: A Madlibs Method of Discovery." Presentation at the Association of College & Research Libraries Conference, Indianapolis, IN, April 2013.

Radford, Marie, and Lynn Silipigni Connaway. "Seeking Synchronicity: Evaluating Virtual Reference Services from User, Non-User, and Librarian Perspectives." (working paper, OCLC Research, Dublin, OH, 2008).

"Secret Patron Exercise," L-net: Oregon Libraries Network, accessed August 8, 2013,

"What Makes Great Virtual Reference Service: A Madlibs Method of Discovery (Handout)," Rachel Minkin and Suzanne Bernsten, accessed August 12, 2013,

"Research Help Now (RHN) Best Chat Transcript Rubric," Research Help Now, accessed August 12, 2013,

Woodard, Beth. S. "Training and Continual Learning for Staff." In Reference and Information Services: An Introduction, edited by Richard Bopp and Linda Smith,  261-301. Denver, CO: Librarians Unlimited, 2011. 


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