Shared Values, New Vision: Collaboration and Communities of Practice in Virtual Reference and SQA

Document Type



This investigation of new approaches to improving col- laboration, user/librarian experiences, and sustainabil- ity for virtual reference services (VRS) reports findings from a grant project titled “Cyber Synergy: Seeking Sus- tainability between Virtual Reference and Social Q&A Sites” (Radford, Connaway, & Shah, 2011–2014). In- depth telephone interviews with 50 VRS librarians included questions on collaboration, referral practices, and attitudes toward Social Question and Answer (SQA) services using the Critical Incident Technique (Flana- gan, 1954). The Community of Practice (CoP) (Wenger, 1998; Davies, 2005) framework was found to be a useful conceptualization for understanding VRS professionals’ approaches to their work. Findings indicate that partici- pants usually refer questions from outside of their area of expertise to other librarians, but occasionally refer them to nonlibrarian experts. These referrals are made possible because participants believe that other VRS librarians are qualified and willing collaborators. Bar- riers to collaboration include not knowing appropriate librarians/experts for referral, inability to verify creden- tials, and perceived unwillingness to collaborate. Facili- tators to collaboration include knowledge of appropriate collaborators who are qualified and willingness to refer. Answers from SQA services were perceived as less objective and authoritative, but participants were open to collaborating with nonlibrarian experts with confirma- tion of professional expertise or extensive knowledge.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

APA Citation

Radford, M. L., Connaway, L. S., Mikitish, S., Alpert, M., Shah, C., & Cooke, N. A. (2017). Shared values, new vision: Collaboration and communities of practice in virtual reference and SQA. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 68(2), 438-449. doi: 10.1002/asi.23668