Library Support Staff Doing Virtual Reference

I'm doing some research for work, and having trouble finding information. Can anyone point me toward any websites, blogs, or print resources with information about using non-MLS staff to work at a library's chat reference service? It could be anything: statistics, opinions, case studies, etc. It could even be about non-MLS staff providing "regular" (non-digital) reference. Most of the information I've found tends to just be debate about whether support staff should be called "librarians."

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I have done this for years. I was in the OCLC QP beta test program and have been a member of the WA State VR consortium for years.

When I did VR for, Florida's statewide VR service non-librarians were trained to provide VR service.

If I recall the point of contact was Diana Sachs from Tampa Bay Library Consortium (

Oregon's statewide virtual reference service has always encouraged all reference staff to contribute, whether they are "librarians" or "support staff". It is the fact that a person does reference work that makes them good at providing virtual reference service.

Support staff that provide reference service come in three flavors, and they're all good at virtual reference:

1. Those that work in a very large library where some reference duties are assigned to support staff anyway.

2. Those that work in a very small library, and so, do reference, do cataloging, do everything.

3. School librarians.

We also have a volunteer program that is made up of mostly LISstudents and recent graduates, with the requirement that they have some reference experience.

Some rough and not very quotable statistics from our service

Of about 90 hours we staff in a busy week:

70 hours are contributed by MLS-holders who work at a library
4 hours are contributed by current LIS students
12 hours are contributed by MLS-holders who don't work in a library
4 hours are contributed by support staff at Oregon libraries

I know that at least one other statewide service, AskColorado, uses LIS students to provide virtual reference service.

E-mail lists are a good place to ask your questions, and I can forward your request to collaborateive virtual reference e-mail list if you like. DIG_REF is another one.

OCLC QuestionPoint used to require that staff have an MLS to contribute to their 24/7 cooperative, but when I challenged OCLC on this and said the non-MLS people were just as good, they said sure, go ahead, use whoever you have.

I believe that requirement has since been removed - see I think the whole thing was all about trying to reassure potential customers/members that another library can help you.