All I could think about while Rick and I tested the latest version of OCLC’s QuestionPoint virtual reference software was Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.
I seriously can’t imagine how we’re going to give our users a good experience with this software. Sarah Houghton did a great job of listing her issues with QP in her post New QuestionPoint Flash Interface: LiB’s Review. I’m not patient enough to make such a list, but I can say that this software is designed with the librarian in mind, not the library patron. And all of the extra megabytes of software seem like cruft. It may have placated me a bit if, say, all of the testing we did with sending info from our databases worked well, but no such luck. I’m afraid that virtual reference software is still an expensive and cumbersome solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Jenny sums up another feeling of mine in her post about the Homer library getting good (print) press for their use of RSS and Flickr:
It’s easier to cut our funding when we’re just the nameless, faceless “library” than it is if they see happy, smiling taxpayers.
I’m afraid that big, multi-state virtual reference projects turn us into the “nameless, faceless” question answerer that Jenny mentions. People are less likely to become excited library supporters if they’re serviced by strangers. When people in Western Springs send an IM to thommyford , they know they’ll be chatting with someone from the TFML. The next time they choose to visit the library in person, they can say “Hi” and shake hands.