Ever have one of those days? On Sunday several of my virtual reference exchanges were a bit strange.
One student had a screen name that was an entire paragraph long. Everytime he sent a message, I had to scroll down the chat box to find his message. He kept rephrasing his request and adding details. He also threw in jokes while I was searching. It was impossible to actually work on his question if I kept reading his chatter. I told him I was going away for a book.
Another seemed either to have no grasp of her topic or to be unwilling to read the pages that I sent to her. I had to point to the answer on each page that I sent and tell her why it answered her question. She had lots of followup questions. She would be silent sometimes for ten minutes or so and then come back. I fielded her questions for nearly two hours while juggling other clients.
A third student wanted mileage between two suburbs and then started telling me about seeing his teacher in a supermarket several suburbs away from his middle school. He wondered why his teacher would wander so far away from the school. "She might live near there." That he had also gone seven miles away from his school did not seem noteworthy. He wanted to know several other distances. I told him how to use Google Maps.
Then I had several "normal" virtual reference interviews.
Virtual reference has no monopoly on unusual transactions.
Constant talkers come to the reference desk every now and then, too. It is sometimes hard to think when bombarded by endless talk. It is interesting to see how the phenomenon manifests itself online.
I have students who want answers but who are unwilling to read what I hand them come to the desk, too. It should be no surprise to meet them virtually. I sometimes paste the answering statements into the chat box after pushing the web page.
At the desk I rarely get the students who mostly want to chat. Maybe I look too old. Online they have no clue to my age (other than my using complete sentences followed by periods.)
My library is now in its third year of offering virtual reference. The more I see the more I believe it is mostly like in-person reference. It is sometimes puzzling. It is more often very satisfying.