Building an emergency virtual reference service during lockdown: A case study on service design and staff support through crisis


Pre-pandemic, Concordia University Library was among the most visited academic libraries in Quebec, with a strong tradition of in-person reference and research support. In March 2020, following the mandated lockdown to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, Concordia Library had to shift to delivering all services remotely. This case study describes a newly created virtual reference service aimed at compensating for the loss of in-person reference interactions using Zoom. This service was conceived to support the Library’s efforts to provide reference to patrons as well as help information professionals reconnect during a crisis, alleviate the increasing isolation experienced by many, and allow members to support each other as they previously had done in person. I proposed, designed, and ran this project during Fall 2020/Winter 2021 as an emergency response to the lockdown. Its main goals were to provide an additional channel to the array of reference services offered by the library, and to mitigate the effects of isolation that the imposed physical distancing had caused. Extensive testing, feedback, and training sessions – with protocols to protect the safety and privacy of patrons and staff – preceded the project launch. Response to the project was positive, evidenced by patron and staff feedback, return visits, and interaction length. The project also served as a model for a new university-wide student service. It contributed to the library’s efforts to build and sustain valuable relationships during a crisis, bridge physical and psychological distances, and enhance information exchange that continued through the subsequent return to campus.

Jun 6, 2022 10:00 AM