Virtual reference is a core service for any library or organization in the 21st century, allowing their customers to get help when and where they need it. While many organizations may choose to provide their customers a localized IM-type service, partnership with AskUsNow! provides additional benefits available nowhere else.
What are the benefits to my library or organization, and its community?
- Expanded service hours for most libraries and organizations
- Positive return on small investment of staff hours
- Encouraging innovation within a supported environment; centralized coordination and training means libraries don't have to provide administrative or technical support
- Reaching new users and bringing them into the library or organizations
- Supporting customer preferences for online engagement
- Visibility for other library and information services through service provider referrals
- Consistent service across k-12 and post-secondary sector and addressing the needs of the lifelong learner
- Enhanced access to experts facilitates student and lifelong learner use of online databases
- Building collaborative partnerships within and across sectors (multi-sector bundle, resource sharing, building the shared services of our library or organization's community)
- Professional development for service providers; a collaborative environment facilitates sharing of expertise
- Risk avoidance in the event of a disaster. AskUsNow! provides a way for libraries and organizations to maintain access to reference services if the library or information service is compromised
- Customer satisfaction. Sample feedback includes:
- "Even though the librarian who I talked to did not work at my county library, she helped me find exactly what I needed."
- "Slick service. I LIKE IT!"
- "Fast, helpful, easy to use, friendly... I can always count on it!"
- "I am very grateful for this option because it has helped me to complete my homework and projects when I really needed help."
How do our libraries and organizations provide Maryland AskUsNow!?
Service to our customers is provided by AskUsNow!-trained staff from our Partner Institutions. Maryland AskUsNow! participates in an international cooperative called the QuestionPoint 24/7 Reference. Participation in this network allows us to use the QuestionPoint chat and e-mail virtual reference tools. It also allows us to have librarians and information providers available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the global cooperative and back-up staffing. When our librarians are busy or not online, service is provided by members of the 24/7 Reference Cooperative and the QuestionPoint backup staff. QuestionPoint is a service of OCLC. The Maryland AskUsNow! grant covers the cost of our QuestionPoint contract. No fees are charged to our partner libraries and organizations.
Maryland AskUsNow! partner libraries and organizations provide coverage of a regular weekly schedule. For our academic and public libraries and organizations, this takes the form of monitoring chat queues. Our special libraries and organizations can participate in chat but mostly provide service in their area of expertise by responding to questions via follow-up or through an email web form.
What are the responsibilities of each partner library and organization?
There is no fee to participate. Libraries and organizations contribute to the cooperative by staffing designated hours of service. Current staffing availability at the partner library or organization and expected usage are considered when determining an appropriate schedule. The standard minimum contribution is five hours of chat coverage from one library system or organization each week. Academic partner libraries cover at least a quarter of their weekly schedule on both the "academic" and "public" Maryland queues.
Maryland AskUsNow! partner library systems and organizations return a signed Letter of Intent to Partner (.pdf) which promises at least one full year of active participation and provision of service. This letter is signed by the library or organization's director and sent to the Maryland AskUsNow! Project Coordinator. Continued active participation and provision of service is assumed to continue after the first year unless other arrangements are communicated to the Project Coordinator.
By participating in this project, partner libraries and organizations:
- Appoint a Project Liaison to represent the institution
- Provide coverage of an assigned service schedule, based on what your particular library or organization can reasonably contribute
- Identify staff to provide service and have them participate in necessary training, including a half-day training session provided by the project coordinator
- Add a standardized branded link to AskUsNow! on the library's or organization's home page.
What are the responsibilities of the library or organization's project liaison?
- Represents the partner library system at statewide meetings and joins the MDASKUSNOW e-mail listserv
- Reports local training and scheduling needs to the project coordinator
- Maintains service quality by monitoring local performance data, including session transcripts and referrals
- Maintains scheduling and arranges for substitutes as necessary
- Maintains the currency of local library/organization information used by the cooperative, such as the library/organization's "policy page."
- Contributes enthusiasm and energy to make the project a success!
What are the next steps to participate?
Return the completed Letter of Intent to Partner (.pdf).
You may contact the Maryland AskUsNow! Statewide Project Coordinator (Paul Chasen; firstname.lastname@example.org; 443-984-4955) at any time with questions. You will have the opportunity to discuss the following:
- The project's history
- Technical requirements
- An appropriate schedule
- A date and location for the statewide coordinator to provide training with your staff
- Partner library online resources and marketing strategies
Who do I contact?
Besides the Project Coordinator, any questions about the service may also be directed to:
Public Libraries and State Networking Branch Chief
AskUsNow! Grant Supervisor
Division of Library Development and Services Maryland State Department of Education
Office phone: 410-767-0444