So I've had an article sitting on my to-read pile for a couple of weeks, and when an article with a similar topic showed up I thought it would be an interesting chance to compare and contrast, as they promised to come to different conclusions. Ah well, at least my idea forced me to read them.
The first is To Chat Or Not to Chat — Taking Another Look at Virtual Reference, Part 1, by Steve Coffman and Linda Arret, online at InfoToday.com and in Searcher (available in ABI Inform, Expanded Academic ASAP, and Academic Search Premier). This one promised to be interesting because Steve Coffman is the Vice President of Business Development at LSSI - the virtual reference software company, and it sounded like he was coming to the conclusion that virtual reference is a bust! Interesting way to promote your own business... Turns out he doesn't come to that conclusion exactly (though it is only part one of a two-part article - stay tuned to the next issue...). He provides a good history of virtual reference and a lot of statistics that show how the number of virtual reference transactions are falling.
The second article was Facing Live Reference, by Joe Fernandez in the May/June issue of ONLINE. Not online, but available in all the same sources as above. I thought this one was a bust - nothing really new here unless you're looking for a description of how to personalize your virtual reference service. OK, so it's a good article if that's what you need, but if you've been involved in distance education for any length of time you should already be doing everything he suggests, IMHO.
So I can't really bounce these papers off each other. I recommend the Coffman article, but I'll have to remember to see what he actually concludes in the next issue.