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portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.1 (2004) 157-158
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The Virtual Reference Librarian's Handbook, Anne Grodins Lipow. Berkeley, CA: Library Solutions Press; New York: Neal-Schuman, 2003. 199p. +1 CD-ROM $85 (ISBN 1-5570-445-X)
During her keynote address at the Ninth Australasian Information Online and On Disc Conference in 1999, Ann Grodins Lipow made the now oft quoted observation, "Rather than thinking of our users as remote, we should instead recognize that it is we who are remote from our users. We need to change how we do business in such a way as to get back together." Virtual reference has developed into a key method for librarians to meet remote users at their point of need, so it is therefore fitting that Lipow has penned The Virtual Reference Librarian's Handbook. This handbook complements Marc Meola and Sam Stormont's Starting and Operating Live Virtual Reference Services (Neal-Schuman, 2002) in guiding those who would like to launch a virtual reference service, as well as those who have begun but might like some guidance in steering the best course.
Lipow, founder and director of Library Solutions Institute and Press (the publisher of this volume), collaborated with LSSI's Steve Coffman on the 2001 Establishing a Virtual Reference Service: VRD Training Manual (Library Solutions Press, 2001). That work mainly concentrated on developing proficiency with the LSSI Virtual Reference Desk software. This current Handbook, while focusing exclusively on live, interactive remote service, is much broader in scope, including planning, software selection, training, developing policies, marketing and more.
The book is divided into three major sections: Making the Decision to Go Virtual, Moving to the Virtual Reference Desk, and Building a Lively Service. Five appendices contain extensive support materials. The approach is very much that of a workbook. Broad, lined margins for notes are provided throughout, along with callouts and sidebars and a list of the numerous exercises and checklists. As an added benefit, the accompanying CD-ROM contains all the forms, surveys, and exercises, as well as links to all the Web sites referred to in the book.
The first part focuses on what is involved in moving reference service onto the Web. Lipow squarely addresses a primary concern--how to add a new service with no additional staff--by offering six approaches. This section might have benefited from a discussion of various models of collaboration, an approach that is becoming increasingly widespread. She also firmly rebuts the most commonly offered arguments against providing virtual reference. Chapter 3, "Shop Wisely for Software," [End Page 157] offers useful checklists and worksheets, which will be a boon to anyone who is at this stage of planning.
Part II covers key competencies, policies, Web-page design, and touches very briefly on evaluation. Lipow avoids referring to any specific software and instead provides generic exercises that step the reader through the exploration of their chosen product and can serve as the outline for an effective training program. The chapters on policies and home page design and layout serve a similar function in those areas.
The final section focuses on marketing and the library's Web presence. The material on marketing is very useful and can easily be adapted for use in promoting the library as a whole. The last chapter is a retread of the general Web-design principles already presented in Chapter 6, but Lipow mentions in the preface that she placed similar materials in different sections because she does not expect readers to read from start to finish, but rather to dip into the sections relevant to them at different times. After working through the book's many exercises, surveys, and assessments, readers may conclude that The Virtual Reference Librarian's Handbook is a useful tool for planning and improving not just virtual reference but reference services in general.
Ten years ago, Lipow co-authored Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook (Library Solutions Press, 1993). Today, she is once again helping librarians cross the digital threshold, this time to establish effective reference services in the "cyberbranch," for...