From the Other Side

blue green and purple inflatable aliens
“Inflatable aliens at Anonymous protest” by Lewis Francis. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do virtual reference (VR) (also known as chat reference).  And when you’re on chat, it’s common to have patrons ask for help troubleshooting technology.  The library has specialists in a variety of software – so we can always make a referral.  But it’s library policy (and just good reference etiquette) to try to help the patron as much as we can right when they ask the question, rather than put them off until they can get an appointment with the specialist librarian.

These technology questions – when I’m not really the specialist – can be nerve-wracking and/or frustrating.  Not being a specialist in everything, I hope I can help right then and there…even if I don’t know much.  And then, VR and technology troubles can be unbearably difficult because I can’t see what the patron sees.  I can never really be sure I’m 100% discussing the same issue they are (because I can’t see it); and I don’t always know that I’m explaining the procedures in a way that the patron understands.

So when I bought myself a piece of technology and it didn’t work, I experienced the strangest feeling – knowing I would be the patron in a chat reference transaction, and knowing how it feels to be the “expert” during that chat.

It is so bizarre coming in from the other side.

Still, I needed help, so I saddled up and faced that strange feeling.  I typed into the chat box and tried to explain as clearly and carefully as possible the issue, praying that I wasn’t making it any harder for the person on the other side. Fortunately, the Help Desk and I were able to communicate well and resolve the situation to my satisfaction.

Coming from the other side wasn’t so terrible after all.  But odd.


This company and its Help Desk also had an awesome technology in their chat where the Help Desk can send the user a link.  The user can then upload photos (or screenshots) of the issue at hand in the space provided by the link.  I think that would be an awesome addition to the library’s chat reference system.


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