I asked Jaclyn Savolainen, a librarian of a Community College in New York State, some questions on chat reference using the the 24/7 chat service Ask Us. Some quotes from our short conversation (which continued via mail):
“We are in New York and there are many libraries throughout the U.S. that use AskUs 24/7. AskUs 24/7 is connected to a service called QuestionPoint and it is run by an organization called OCLC, which is a global library cooperative.”
“Any reference question can be appropriate for a chat. It’s a matter of how we walk people through the steps to find their answers.”
“Often people need help coming up with a search strategy. For example, they have a research topic but they don’t know what words to use to search. Someone might want to do research on a topic having to do with some aspect of poverty in a particular region and they try to search their library databases the way they would search in Google, but library databases don’t search the same as Google. So they really need to come up with a few keywords to search instead of typing a full question into their library search box. Then we can show the patron how to use the database filters and limiters to narrow down their search to the information best suited to their needs.
Recently I had a patron who was looking for primary sources related to a U.S. law passed in 1974, and I was able to help them navigate the government archives public website as well as their library databases. I helped provide some context for the information they needed (including the names of relevant amendments to the law) and the patron was really appreciative. Another recent question had to do with finding research on employers promoting employees from within their organization who do not have a college education. It turned out that the search terms that were most useful were “academic degrees” and “success in business”, and I also gave the patron a brief lesson in how to make use of Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to build a more complex search.
Sometimes the biggest challenge is figuring out exactly what the patron is really looking for, and it can take quite a few questions to clarify their needs. I enjoy that process and it is especially rewarding when a patron tells me I’ve been really helpful.”
“I would say the core benefit is having an expert researcher (the librarian) walk through a search with you even if you can’t make it into a library in person. We can help patrons learn how to use their library services from across the country or even across the globe.”
“The questions really vary. Sometimes it’s an easy question like whether a book is available or how do you reserve a study room. Sometimes it’s a question that will take 40 minutes of back and forth. And if there is a question that requires a response from a local librarian, we can pass that back to the library to follow up with the patron. That happens a lot. If someone has a question about a fine they owe, or a book they ordered that hasn’t arrived, for example.”