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16 November 2011


Peter Murray

Ohio has one called KnowItNow that is a mix of academic and public libraries. It, too, has a ask-by-text-message feature.

Caleb Tr

Our service in Oregon is called L-net: Oregon Libraries Network. We have chat, email and texting, 24/7. I think you just missed the link to the top-level page of the site, which is more my fault than yours. We partner with Ohio's KnowItNow on a server to deliver the service and share an after-hours service.

Besides what Peter said, you are missing MarylandAskUsNow (http://www.askusnow.info/), North Carolina (ncknows.org), Colorado (askcolorado.org) QandANJ (for now, http://qandanj.org/) in New Jersey, the actual link to Florida's service (as opposed to their twitter feed, http://www.askalibrarian.org/), and too many more to think of right now. In Canada, British Columbia has a service, as does Ontario. The entire countries of England, New Zealand, Sweden, Australia .... I used to keep a map, but haven't updated it lately (http://www.oregonlibraries.net/staff/2008/01/15/new_maps).

Libsuccess wiki has a large list, http://www.libsuccess.org/index.php?title=Online_Reference#Libraries_Using_Virtual_Reference_Services, and the LISWiki.com used to have a list but it seems to be gone also. There has been some weirdness over some libraries insisting they do "IM reference" and not "virtual reference", but it is just words - the point is that you can get help from librarians online.

Can I ask what is motivating you to make this list this time around?

I think the fact that you aren't finding our front page or Florida's points to poor usability, not your error.

Edward Vielmetti

Caleb -

Thanks for the detail. I'm looking at a couple of things for this survey:

1. Simple data gathering, with an emphasis in part on collecting reference telephone numbers. I'm hoping for a single page that has a lot of detail so that if I need to have a reference librarian of many varieties on speed dial that I can call up the page and have one handy.

2. Some systematic look at public, academic, research, and government libraries to see how they differ in providing ask a librarian services to the public. I'm not sure what I'm going to find just yet.

3. A sense for the level of technology that's being used below the state level, e.g. at individual libraries. My working hunch is that "ask a reference librarian with deep and obscure subject knowledge of a unique collection" vs. "ask someone 24x7 about a homework question" are two edges of a multidimensional spectrum, and that technology choices reflect that.

Caleb Tr

Wanting to have different subject experts on speed dial is interesting because our whole approach has been "ask us anything and we'll direct you to the right expert".

I'd be interested to see what you find - perhaps the technologies do reflect the types of questions we are expecting, but I'd bet it is often not planned that way.

I think most reference services allow any question can be asked in any media, assuming we have the staff to answer. But you also find libraries explicitly limiting chat to "short" questions, for example, which David Lee King from Kansas railed against a few years ago (http://www.davidleeking.com/2009/01/06/ask-a-librarian-services-need-a-reboot/).

Some of the early literature (~1999) in virtual reference instructed libraries to make long web forms in place of the reference interview (ie where have you looked, what sources have you checked, what is this for, and on and on, eg LC, http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-news.html). This type of form is intimidating to almost everyone.

The contemporary thinking is to eliminate as many barriers to asking questions as possible. You see this reflected in the online chat widgets that many libraries use today - sometimes there is a place to put your name, but mostly you just type your question and go (eg http://www.lib.umich.edu/ask-librarian).

So here's a question for you - does a easy-to-use chat widget discourage you from asking an in-depth question?

Springshare makes the Lib____ series of products, including LibAnswers for reference service, and it features a kind of subject/body model for submitting a question - I think the two fields are What is your question (a textfield) and Tell me More (textarea). I think this model could help encourage in-depth questions without discouraging everything else.

Edward Vielmetti

I can understand the bias towards the short question, if only to keep the cost of running the service manageable. It's one thing to have questions that can be answered in 2 minutes, and something entirely else to have 15 minute questions or 60 minute questions.

The "expert on speed dial" perspective is really a more general part of looking to know what the strengths are of various collections and not trying to pretend that all libraries (or librarians) are interchangeable. If I'm going to ask a question about electric power in Oregon, my chance of getting a good answer should be better all things being equal if the person answering already gets a lot of questions about electric power or Oregon.

Ideally you'd find the curator of some special collection and ask them! But that starts to sound like a dial-an-archivist service.

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