Virtual Reference Services through Web Search Engines: Study of Academic Libraries in Pakistan
Web search engines (WSE) are powerful and popular tools in the field of information service management. This study is an attempt to examine the impact and usefulness of web search engines in providing virtual reference services (VRS) within academic libraries in Pakistan. The study also attempts to investigate the relevant expertise and skills of library professionals in providing digital reference services (DRS) efficiently using web search engines. Methodology used in this study is
... study is quantitative in nature. The data was collected from fifty public and private sector universities in Pakistan using a structured questionnaire. Microsoft Excel and SPSS were used for data analysis. The study concludes that web search engines are commonly used by librarians to help users (especially research scholars) by providing digital reference services. The study also finds a positive correlation between use of web search engines and quality of digital reference services provided to library users. It is concluded that although search engines have increased the expectations of users and are really big competitors to a library's reference desk, they are however not an alternative to reference service. Findings reveal that search engines pose numerous challenges for librarians and the study also attempts to bring together possible remedial measures. This study is useful for library professionals to understand the importance of search engines in providing VRS. The study also provides an intellectual comparison among different search engines, their capabilities, limitations, challenges and opportunities to provide VRS effectively in libraries. Publications 2017, 5, 6 2 of 13 than visiting the library. Libraries have started providing real-time digital reference services (DRS) to its patrons worldwide  . The Internet has established strong reference services such as Google, Ask Jeeves and other computer-mediated online reference services, which have seemed to supersede the library's reference staff via increased efficiently. However, these tools are not alternatives to a capable reference librarian. Library experts have repeatedly demanded the adoption of new technology and an increase in tech-savviness. Although many libraries have started purchasing web-based programs that allow library staff to take control of the patrons' computer and guide them in real-time environment, a reference expert would still be needed to help a library patron in what he/she is exactly looking for. Reference services are primarily meant to help users in determining which resource is best and how to use it. Information technology has brought about a paradigm shift in the provision of library services. Janes  not only expanded upon librarians' attitudes and experiences in the digital environment but also made a detailed report on digital reference services. In Pakistani academic libraries, digital reference services are provided in two different ways. The first is asynchronous digital reference (email and web forms), where the patron gets a reply after some time or even after some days. The second useful system is synchronous digital references (instant messaging and video conferencing), through which users get an instant reply to their query     . The literature on library services in Pakistan reveals that web-based library services (using the Internet as a medium and library website as a gateway) are spreading rapidly in Pakistan. These services include electronic document delivery, electronic current awareness services, and selective dissemination of information (SDI). However, the available literature is not enough to explain the current state of awareness and use of technology by academic librarians in Pakistan in providing reference services to patrons. We therefore hypothesized that virtual reference services (VRS) are rarely available in academic libraries in Pakistan. This study therefore examines the current status of VRS in Pakistani academic libraries.