- Virtual Reference in the Music Library
In December 2002, the Information Sharing Subcommittee1 of the Music Library Association's Reference and Public Services Committee (RAPS) created and conducted a survey of virtual reference activity in music libraries. This survey was linked from the MLA-L electronic discussion list with the request that it be completed for each institution where one or more music librarians participate in or actively plan to participate in virtual reference services. For purposes of the survey, virtual reference was defined to include e-mail reference, queries via a Web-based form, live chat, live voice chat, and any other electronically mediated reference interaction between a music librarian and a library patron. Responses to the survey were received from forty-five librarians representing thirty-nine institutions of higher education, five public libraries, and one special library. Following a discussion of the published literature on the topic, this article reports the survey findings.
A review of the extensive literature relating to reference transactions reveals very little pertaining to music.2 In 1985 Susan Clegg published a sample reference survey form in Fontes Artis Musicae, along with a plea that music libraries collect reference statistics and report them in such a way that others could benefit from them.3 In the same issue, Roger Crudge reported briefly on "Music Library Statistics in Britain."4 Helmut [End Page 634] Rösner's article, "Zur Statistik der Musikbibliotheken," concerning music libraries in Germany, appeared in Fontes Artis Musicae in 1992.5
The International Association of Music Libraries (IAML) Project Group on Statistics, chaired by Susan Clegg, created "Guidelines and Recommendations for the Collection of Music Library Statistics" in 1991. Based on the International Organization for Standardization's ISO 2789:1991 ("Information and Documentation: International Library Statistics," later revised as ISO 2789:2003), the recommendations were accepted as the official IAML guidelines for music library statistics in 1992 and were published in 1993; the only reference statistic included was the "total number of recorded enquiries."6
In 1994, the Music Library Association's Reference and Public Services Committee (RAPS) began a study of the reference performance of librarian, paraprofessional, and student employees in academic music libraries using the survey instrument developed for the Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program (WOREP). A preliminary report on the results of this study was published in this journal in 2001.7 The data are intended to "measure general characteristics of reference service in music settings and determine how they mirror or differ from . . . general-library counterparts."8
More recently, analyses of virtual reference services, particularly chat reference service, are beginning to appear in the literature; however, as is true for other aspects of reference service, few articles refer to subject analysis and none were found that relate to music.9 Although this study of virtual reference is no more than a snapshot of activity, the hope is that it can represent a first step in establishing benchmarks for virtual reference within the discipline.
In preparation for a presentation at the Music Library Association (MLA) annual meeting in February of 2003, the RAPS Committee's [End Page 635] Information Sharing Subcommittee, chaired by John Anderies, created a survey on the use of virtual reference in music libraries and by music librarians. Anderies converted the survey into a Web-based input form, using standard radio buttons, check boxes, and text blocks. The responses were collected using a program called Gather, a prototype Common Gateway Interface (CGI) application for gathering data submitted via Web forms.10 From Gather, the results were exported into an Excel spreadsheet for analysis.
The survey, included as an appendix to this article, was distributed in December 2002 as a link on the MLA-L electronic mailing list to over a thousand subscribers, with the request that it be completed by music librarians who participate in some form of virtual reference or have plans to do so. "Virtual reference" was defined as including but not limited to "e-mail reference, queries that come via a web-based form, live chat, [and] live voice chat."11 In this survey, "virtual" reference is equivalent in intent...