fire, brimestone, and questionpoint

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.

6 thoughts on “fire, brimestone, and questionpoint”

  1. I can give you a little comfort, I guess. We are up on questionpoint and although it is getting some use we are not overwhelmed. My job is to promote “Ask?Away”. I’m not to enthused about doing that so have chosen to just sandwich it in with a push I am doing about how to get information at your library. You know, reference desk, phone, email, IM (in your case anyway) and last is AskAway. It would be nice to feel like I can comfortable vouch for the system but…Oh, well. This to shall pass.

  2. I disagree passionately that large VR collaboratives are faceless. In a collaborative environment, the first thing you do with a patron is tell them who you are. We’re hoping that profiles will help as well.

    Of course, we have feedback from patrons both ways: collaboration is a great way to save money / I wish you were at my library.

    The main problem that collaborative VR tries to address in Oregon is that only 80% of our citizens have access to a public library, even less have a reference librarian at that library, and schools? forget it.

    BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY

    Related to hellfire and damnation, preliminary data shows that since switching to “Flash Chat”, 39% of our patrons who submit a question never connect to the librarian. 39%! What … 39%!

  3. I can give you a little comfort, I guess. We are up on questionpoint and although it is getting some use we are not overwhelmed. My job is to promote “Ask?Away”. I’m not too enthused about doing that, so have chosen to just sandwich it in with a push I am doing about how to get information at your library. You know, reference desk, phone, email, IM (in your case anyway) and last is Ask?Away. It would be nice to feel like I can comfortably vouch for the system but…Oh, well. This to shall pass.

  4. Caleb’s experience is not unusual. A PhD researcher approached me after one of my conference sessions last fall, telling me that in his studies of VR, anywhere between 40-60% of users were disconnected or otherwise not able to connect with a librarian. Not cool. Not at all. THIS is why I choose to rail so hard against VR products. If the disconnect rate were this bad with our phones–we’d switch service providers. Sadly, in the VR game, they all stink….so your choice is to move to an independent web-based IM solution like companies do, or try IM, or SMS (cell phone text messsaging). Or all of the above.

  5. sarah, 40-60% isn’t cited anywhere – can you name names? our recent findings are that disconnects are occuring more than twice as often as before, and no study i have done as of yet found disconnects to be higher than 21%. not that 21% is okay, just that your figures are outlandish and i would love to know your source.

Leave a Reply