Beyond the reference desk: A study of the effectiveness of low-cost distance library services at California State University San Marcos

Many of our reference interactions are face-to-face at a desk or in our offices. Unfortunately, not all of our students are on campus. Whether a non-traditional student or a traditional undergraduate, more of our patrons are attending online classes or attending satellite campuses with no librarians on site. It’s difficult to reach these students, but it’s even more difficult to reach them when libraries are facing tremendous financial hardships and have limited their technology budgets. Fortunately technological advances such as programs that offer free virtual “face-to-face” time with our patrons are becoming more available. Programs such as Skype, Jing, Moodle and Spark offer librarians and patrons the freedom to interact with each other at low or no costs. Sadly many librarians are either uncomfortable with the new technology or don’t feel the quality of service is as good as high-priced tools. This paper will share the basic set-up of various free or low cost online programs, outline the bene- fits and drawbacks of some of those programs, and provide effective interaction techniques to use with distance learners to help make the reference interview and information literacy sessions a more positive and comfortable experience for librarians and students.