AskUsNow! Service Guidelines

Maryland AskUsNow! (AskUsNow!) is the statewide chat reference service that provides chat for Maryland residents, students in Maryland schools and institutions, and people outside of Maryland who find the service have online conversations with chat librarians.  The service started as a pilot project between the Baltimore County Public Library and Harford County Public Library, and is currently coordinated by the Maryland State Library Resource Center at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.  AskUsNow! went live as a statewide service on March 17, 2003 and has been growing strong since. Much of our success is thanks to the dozens of libraries and hundreds of librarians around the state who provide and support the service. Thank you for your continued support.

AskUsNow! unites the information expertise of librarians, the resources of Maryland's libraries and tomorrow's advanced technology to meet the information needs of Marylanders whenever they need it, wherever they are. AskUsNow! is accessible from, or chat form URLs OR chat widgets (i.e. Qwidgets) on a Maryland library's website.

These guidelines explain the expectations of the service for liaisons, providers, and administration.


Service Structure

AskUsNow! is a family of over 1000 librarians who have been trained across the state of Maryland representing all types of libraries; academic, public, special, and federal. Maryland AskUsNow! is a project of the Maryland State Library, funded through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and coordinated by the Maryland State Library Resource Center at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

The service is run by the Statewide Coordinator who monitors usage and provides quality control, trains staff, heads marketing initiatives, grows the service with new partnerships and technology initiatives as well as schedule staff and troubleshoot. Each partner library appoints a Liaison to represent their library with AskUsNow!. The Liaison is responsible for attending the quarterly liaison meetings, making sure their staff (i.e. Providers) is up-to-date on service expectations and information and other duties.

AskUsNow! is provided by trained reference and information services Providers at each of the Partner Libraries. While over 1000 people have been trained over the years, we currently have about 200 active Providers. Without the enthusiasm, dedication and service skills of our Liaisons and Providers, AskUsNow! would not be as successful as it is.

Librarians from partner libraries around the state staff the service during regular library hours. Backup and after-hours coverage is provided by OCLC QuestionPoint’s freelance staff as part of the QP service agreement.

The Fine Print


Maryland AskUsNow! provides timely, authoritative answers to research and library access-specific questions, as well as guidance and "teachable moments" in conducting student personal research using freely available online resources, Sailor, Marina, and customers’ libraries’ databases and collections.  If the customers needs information that is not available online, AskUsNow! will provide resources and referrals that potentially provide the access. 

Every effort is made to provide accurate information; however the libraries do not control the content of resources used. By accessing AskUsNow!, the customer agrees to not hold the libraries liable from any claims, losses, damages, obligations, or liabilities relating to the use of information obtained from this service. The provision of any factual information or materials, and the identification of other websites that may be useful in obtaining additional information regarding legal or medical issues cannot be construed as advice. Only a professional practitioner can provide specific advice and direction in resolving legal and/or medical issues.

By accessing this service, customers agree not to send any question or content that is illegal, harassing, libelous, threatening, harmful, obscene, or otherwise objectionable. Customers agree not to send any question or content that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national, or international law.



The Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the reproduction, distribution, adaptation, public performance, and public display of copyrighted material. Responsibility for any possible copyright infringement lies solely with the customer; the Library disclaims any responsibility or liability resulting thereof.

Librarians (i.e. Providers) providing service should be aware of the four part Fair Use test when considering whether information provided is in compliance with copyright. University of Texas provides understandable information on Fair Use including this link to the test. 

Local database license agreements supersede copyright law. Individual systems need to check their license agreements and/or talk to their vendors in order to verify if a generic library card may be provided for other libraries to use. When possible, this card number will appear on the library’s policy page to help Providers give customers help as if they were their local librarians. Generic (dummy) library card information is not given to customers.



Maryland AskUsNow! respects customer privacy and confidentiality, and observes applicable laws, policies, and professional codes of conduct. As part of routine reference service in a networked environment, AskUsNow! and the QuestionPoint 24/7 Cooperative collect and retain some customer information for network quality control and security purposes. Thus, email and other electronic communications should not be viewed as absolutely confidential; however, the service strives to protect this information to the fullest extent possible. Transcripts of sessions are kept at the OCLC QuestionPoint 24/7 Cooperative's secure server and used for analysis and training purposes only. In keeping with library policy, customer information is considered confidential and accessible only by designated library staff.  We refer to American Library Association Code of EthicsQuestionPoint Patron Terms of Service, QuestionPoint Librarian Terms of Service, and the OCLC Privacy Statement.


Identifying Information for Customers

When logging into the service, customers may be asked to provide certain identifying information. If customers check the box labeled anonymous, no personal identifying information about them will be revealed.

An email address is not required to access the service at (AUN partner libraries are permitted to make the email address a requirement.), but when available, email is used to send a customer's transcript of their sessions.  No email addresses are provided to entities outside of the libraries providing service. The customer’s name is used by the software to identify a session and in communicating with the customer. While a name is required, it does not have to be the full or real name.  If one is provided, it will be used only in the provision of service from this site.

Information collected about any individual using this service is generally incidental to the technical operation of the system. Such information will not be voluntarily published or shared with any other entity. In the course of clarifying the customer’s request for information the librarian may ask for information regarding purpose (for instance, “Is this for a homework assignment?”), or reading or grade level. Such incidental information will be used to identify appropriate resources only. Any information given to the librarian will be stored in a session transcript.

More information about identifying information for customers on chat is available in the QuestionPoint Patron Terms of Service and OCLC Privacy Statement.


Communication is very important to AskUsNow!, both communications between the service and its librarians (i.e. Providers) and customers, as well as the communication from the AskUsNow! Statewide Coordinator to valued stakeholders.


Communicating with staff

AskUsNow! provides many avenues for communication among staff and the Statewide Coordinator. The AskUsNow! Statewide Coordinator relies on its Partner Library Liaisons to ensure that every AskUsNow! staff member is up-to-date on policies, service expectations, and other relevant information.

AskUsNow! Staff Website

The AskUsNow! Staff Website provides all the necessary information for providing excellent service to customers as well as information relevant to the growth of the service and the development of its staff members. All information distributed through other venues will also be available on the Staff Website which includes announcements and news, contact information for the Maryland State Library, Statewide Coordinator, and liaisonstraining documentation, and schedules.

AskUsNow! Listserv

The AskUsNow! listserv is available to all AskUsNow! staff; but membership is mandatory for all AskUsNow! liaisons. The listserv is used for software update notifications, day-to-day operations, and other AskUsNow!-related business.


Connecting with Customers

AskUsNow! wants to remain an organization that is open to the comments and discussions of its customers in order to best serve them. Aside from the customer surveys and the webmaster email account (, AskUsNow! utilizes the following social media tool to open the lines of communication between the service and its customers:

twitter logo

The AskUsNow! Statewide Coordinator posts customer questions and customer comments (both stripped of all identifying information), and posts about different research topics on Twitter as both a marketing tool and a communications tool. Customers are able like, retweet, or @reply or direct message (DM) AskUsNow! whenever they need to. 





Statewide Schedule

The statewide schedule can be found at:  Partner libraries contact the Statewide Coordinator with scheduling needs.


Monitoring Shifts

Liaisons are responsible for scheduling their Providers.  Libraries are responsible for logging on and accepting chat during their scheduled shifts. Providers should be ready to accept chats at the moment their shift starts and should remain monitoring until the end of their shift. Providers monitoring shifts whose endpoint coincides with their library's closing time may end the shift at 10 minutes before the hour, if not engaged in a chat.

The statewide schedule indicates when a session is Global or Local Maryland service hours.

Librarians providing Local Maryland service should select:

Librarians providing Global service to the cooperative should select:

Note:  All librarians who are not scheduled for Global service have the option to provide Global service.



For staff to maintain skills, a minimum of one hour of service every two weeks is recommended. If staff have not provided service for at least 6 months, the Liaison is responsible for ensuring that staff is prepared to resume service. The Statewide Coordinator should be contacted if training is needed.


Time Clock, Coverage, Making Up Chat Hours, and Holidays

If a partner library is unable to cover a regularly scheduled chat hour(s), the Liaison will follow the "Humanity Instructions" at  If urgent, the Liaison will contact the Statewide Coordinator directly.



Dates that no coverage or making up of chat hours is needed by the partner libraries is found at:

Guidelines for Chat Sessions

Service is provided by experienced reference staff (i.e. Providers) as determined by each partner library. Providers are experienced at Internet searching and reference services, and have completed the Maryland AskUsNow! New Staff Training.



AskUsNow! Providers will exhibit the following 8 competencies:


Handling Chat Sessions

AskUsNow! Providers will work with no more than three customers at a time, or only as many as the Provider feels comfortable working with at once.

AskUsNow! chat provision is the primary responsibility of the person assigned to the shift.  

AskUsNow! chat is not provided at the public service desk where the public asks questions face-to-face. These locations for chat service provision are acceptable:

Responding to the Chat

AskUsNow! Providers should pick up Maryland customers as soon as possible.  When monitoring globally for the cooperative, Providers are to wait 60 seconds when there is a local Provider monitoring.

AskUsNow! Providers are expected to use professionalism with every customer as per the various Best Practices documentation.

Referrals on Chat

AskUsNow! Providers will strategically provide referrals in the forms of websites, email address, phone numbers, locations, and related contact information and resources to customers on chat.  Such reasons include:


Transferring a Chat Session to Another Provider

AskUsNow! Providers are expected to complete sessions with customers. Providers may sometimes determine that it is appropriate to transfer a customer to another Provider. Such reasons may be:

The original Provider is expected to contact the Provider they are trying to transfer a session to in order to see if the other Provider can accept the session and to explain why the session is being transferred. Initializing a transfer within the software gives the Provider an opportunity to IM the Provider to whom they wish to transfer the customer.


Ending Chat Sessions

Session Length

Sessions must be ended in a courteous manner. Customers should not be told that they have asked a maximum amount of questions or their “time is up.” 

A session shall be brought to a close when either the customer indicates that he or she has the information sought, or when the Provider is confident that the customer is able to search independently for the information or that through reading resources already sent, the customer will find the information. The Provider should clarify with the customer that they don’t have any additional questions or still need information.

When a customer has a long list of questions or continues to demand more information, the Provider may politely inform the customer that there are other customers waiting for assistance and encourage the customer to log back on later if they need additional assistance.  The Provider should also be prepared to give referrals when this scenario occurs.

If a Provider does not receive a message from a customer for 1-2 minutes, he or she should try to confirm that the customer is still online. Flash Chat will “yellow” a customer when they have gone idle after 3 minutes. This means they have disconnected on purpose or due to technical issues, or they have navigated away from the page. If the customer is idle or the Provider suspects they are gone they should let the customer know of the situation, (i.e. “it looks like you’ve disconnected. If I don’t hear from you soon, I will end this session”). It is up to the Provider if they want to pick up another patron or end the chat.

Chats should be managed as effectively as possible by all Providers on a particular shift.

Resolution Codes

Providers will assign a resolution code to every chat session they handle. See for details.


Ending a Shift

Providers must be sure to Log Out at the end of their shift so they will no longer appear ready for chat.

Working with Customers

Good Communication Skills in the Chat Environment 

Librarians (i.e. Providers) should be familiar with the Behaviors Binder, 24/7 Cooperative Reference Best Practices (.pdf), and the 24/7 Cooperative Performance Standards.

Providers should strive for the best practices from the RUSA Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers.  They may also be interested in the RUSA Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services.

Providers should learn from the examples and tutorials provided in the Exceptional Transcripts and the Chat Behavior Tips.  

Providers should have the same outcome with the customers:  "What can I successfully provide or instruct to customers on chat before offering referrals for further assistance"


Dealing with Difficult Customers

The anonymity of virtual reference sometimes lends itself to inappropriate behavior. 

‚ÄčHere are some suggestions for dealing with difficult customers:


Customers who just wish to “chat” with the Provider should be encouraged to ask a specific question.  If this behavior continues, the Provider may suggest that they log back on when they have a question before ending the session.

Inappropriate or Threatening Language and Behavior

Customers who are rude or obscene, who ask an inappropriate question, who use offensive language, or who threaten the Provider should be sent a message (scripted or not) appropriate to the situation.  Here are some examples: 

At the next instance of such behavior, they should be sent a message explaining that the session will be terminated:

Expletives/Profanity/Racial Slurs/Sexual Innuendo (BL)

If the customer uses a phrase that could be categorized into  these areas,  the session should be ended using the “Inappropriate_disconnect” script

Example: "What the f**k is taking so long?"
But not: "Can you hurry it up?"

Example: "What are you stupid?"
But not: "That other librarian didn't have a clue."

Example: "Hey, you want to get it on?"
But not: "Where do babies come from?"


Working with Distressed Customers

The AskUsNow! service is not intended for providing service to customers who need assistance beyond the scope of reference service. Some examples are customers who are in danger, ill, depressed, or suicidal. The Provider's role in such circumstances is to provide a referral to an agency that may provide the assistance the customer may need.

See the Crisis Guidelines for additional information and resources to help you


Personal Opinions 

Providers should try to avoid giving their personal opinions or making comments about the matter of the customer’s question. This does not include the small amount of self-disclosure that a librarian may choose to offer to the customer in order to build rapport with them.

Offering opinions on medical or legal questions is not appropriate. Offering INFORMATION relating to their need, including medical and legal needs, is completely appropriate and expected.


Customer Privacy

Avoid asking customers for any more information than is necessary to complete the transaction. When Providers do need to ask for personal information (i.e. a customer’s grade in school, home library, or whether they have a library card), they should be sure to explain why the information is necessary. Providers should have customers type in their own library card numbers and passwords when appropriate.  More information about Provider Privacy is available under the QuestionPoint Patron Terms of Service and OCLC Privacy Statement


Provider Privacy

Providers are under no obligation to answer personal questions from customers, such as their real name, gender, location, or schedule.  More information about Provider Privacy is available under the QuestionPoint Librarian Terms of Service and OCLC Privacy Statement.


Explicit Material

AskUsNow! Providers will not intentionally provide pornography to customers of any age. Providers should inform the customer that questions seeking online pornography are beyond the scope of the service.  

AskUsNow! Providers should not knowingly bypass a computer filter against the intent of the parent/guardian,school or other institution which installed the filter.


Sexual Questions

Questions about sexual education, sexual health, or human anatomy should be treated as legitimate reference questions. If the customer’s questions or comments become inappropriate during the transaction,  the Provider should refer to  the guidelines in the section on "Dealing With Difficult Customers." 


Questions about the Service

Customers may ask questions about the AskUsNow! service itself. Providers may answer their questions or direct them to the "What is AskUsNow!?" shared script.

Questions about the service’s policies or management, or very specific questions about procedures, funding, or staffing should be referred to the Statewide Coordinator.

Reference Policies

Librarians (i.e. Providers) should use any resources available to them.  These include, but not limited to:  databases available through Sailor; member library proprietary databases (in keeping with the library’s license agreements); free materials available via the web, and print resources.


Remote Authentication of Database and Online Resource Subscriptions


Website Evaluation

Select those websites that are authoritative, non-commercial, and “objective.” When information is available only on a website that is questionable to the Provider, the Provider should inform the customer of this. (See for more on specifics regarding website evaluation.)


Cite Sources

Websites used in answering the customer's questions should be accompanied by a brief explanation of what the page is and why it is relevant to the customer’s information need.  When a website is not directly sent to a customer, Providers must cite the source used to provide the information.


Explicit Materials

AskUsNow! Providers will not intentionally provide pornography to customers of any age. Providers should inform the customer that questions seeking online pornography are beyond the scope of the service.

AskUsNow! Providers should not knowingly bypass a filter in recognition of the wishes of the parent/guardian, school, or other institution which installed the filter. A website which contains such language or content can be provided but explicit content not cut and pasted.



For resources, see Recommended Chat Resources.

Crisis Call Guidelines

Although they happen rarely, we occasionally receive crisis calls through AskUsNow!. These may be suicide calls or calls that indicate some sort of abuse or threat is involved.


"I am going to kill myself"

"My boyfriend punches me"

"There is a bomb in a locker"

"My father was touching me"


Some of these calls may be pranks, but we should always assume that the call is real and take the situation seriously. The following guidelines are intended to help prepare librarians (i.e. Providers) for the possibility of a crisis call and provide appropriate steps to take in the event of a crisis call.

I might have resources to help you.

It makes me sad to hear that.

I want to help you.

Let's work together to figure something out.

I'll do my best to get the information you need.

That must be so hard.  How can I help?

I'm glad you connected with me today.


Suicide Prevention IMAlive is a live online crisis network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis. People need a safe place to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) Dedicated to suicide prevention, intervention and healing.

1-800-273-TALK (8255) A 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis.


National Rape Crisis Hotline: 800-656-4673


Child Abuse/Neglect

National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-25-ABUSE The Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in 140 languages. The Hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources.

Missing Children

National Hotline for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-843-5678
Operates a hotline for reporting missing children and sightings of missing children. Offers assistance to law enforcement agents. Hours of operation are 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

National Runaway Switchboard: 1-800-621-4000
Provides crisis intervention and travel assistance to runaways. Provides information and local referrals to adolescents and families. Gives referrals to shelters nationwide. Also relays messages to, or sets up conference calls with, parents at the request of the child. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.

Domestic & Family Violence

National Domestic Violence/Child Abuse/Sexual Abuse: 1-800-799-SAFE 1-800-942-6908 Spanish Speaking 24-hour-a-day hotline, Provides crisis intervention and referrals to local services and shelters for victims of partner or spousal abuse. English and Spanish speaking advocates are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Youth In Crisis

National Youth Crisis Hotline: 800-442-HOPE (4673) Provides counseling and referrals to local drug treatment centers, shelters, and counseling services. Responds to youth dealing with pregnancy, molestation, suicide, and child abuse. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.

Boys Town Suicide and Crisis Line: 800-448-3000 Provides short-term crisis intervention and counseling and referrals to local community resources. Counsels on parent-child conflicts, marital and family issues, suicide, pregnancy, runaway youth, physical and sexual abuse, and other issues. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.

Protecting Children from Sexual Offenders

Criminal Activity

Call the police immediately if you are witnessing a crime being committed, are the victim of a crime, particularly one in progress, or have knowledge of criminal activity.


Picking up your telephone and dialing 911 will connect you to your local county's 911 call center.  If you have knowledge of criminal activity or emergency in any other jurisdiction, your call can be transferred to the appropriate place, even across state lines.  For knowledge of criminal activity or emergencies abroad or in other countries, still start with your local 911 call center.

Local Police Departments throughout the Country This site provides you with a map of the U.S. on the main page. You can quickly click on the state in which you need assistance. Then, you have your choice of finding numbers for county Sheriff Departments, Town/City Police Departments, and Fire & Rescue Services. 

Shared Script:  "Crisis_Suicide_Resources" (Some of them may have been mentioned beforehand.):

2018/2019 Maryland AskUsNow! Volunteer Chat Librarians

What is Maryland AskUsNow!?

Maryland AskUsNow! (AskUsNow!),, is a free, 24 hours a day/7 days a week, online library chat reference and information service.  AskUsNow! staffs over 200 chat hours/week, and has trained over 500 library staff and volunteers to provide the service since 2003.

Under the supervision of the Statewide Coordinator of Maryland AskUsNow!, volunteers experience the following opportunities:

Maryland residents, students in Maryland schools and institutions, and people outside of Maryland who find the service, ask questions anonymously or by identifying themselves with email addresses, with or without a library card, to get quick or in-depth, reference and information help in online conversations.  Maryland librarians, or librarians from other states and countries who back up the service, provide the reference and information help.  Customers may receive referrals to services related to their questions.  The customers may also get more reference and information help from a local librarian or subject specialist by email.  Let's chat at   


To participate as an AskUsNow! volunteer, an individual must:


Volunteers are expected to:


Prospective volunteers must complete and send to the Statewide Coordinator: 


To learn more about Maryland AskUsNow, try out chat at or get more in-depth information about the service at


Interested in volunteering?  Besides sending the application, background check form, and resume to the Statewide Coordinator, please contact Paul Chasen, Statewide Coordinator of Maryland AskUsNow!, directly at or 443-984-4955.


Revised and Updated on April 27, 2018