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 formal Maryland AskUsNow! New Staff Training.



AskUsNow! Providers will exhibit the following 8 competencies:


Performance Standards

Staff competencies are monitored by each Project Liaison as well as the Statewide Coordinator through the review of transcripts. Standards of review are based on the Maryland AskUsNow! Behaviors Checklist, the QuestionPoint 24/7 Cooperative's Best Practices, and the QuestionPoint 24/7 Cooperative's Performance Standards.

Each week, Project Liaisons will log in as their library's supervisor and review chat sessions according to the Supports the Quality of the Service Guidelines.

Session transcripts provided by staff at another library or state system that are in need of improvement may be either forwarded directly to the Statewide Coordinator or to the QuestionPoint Quality Staff.  Provide comments as needed.


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 first priority of the person assigned to the shift. The AskUsNow! Provider may also work on email follow-up questions during the shift, however the chat service is their first priority.

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.

Follow-Up with the Customer

AskUsNow! Providers will follow up with a customer within 72 hours of using the virtual reference software.  Such reasons may be:

Providers should obtain or confirm customer contact information and indicate when the information will be sent.

Providers should select the Resolution Code of “Follow-up by…” either “me” or “patron’s library” depending on the situation.

Providers who review the chat questions can determine if follow-up should be provided regardless of the Resolution Code.

Referring the Chat to an Outside Agency

AskUsNow! Providers should refer a customer to an outside agency when the question would be most efficiently answered by another agency such as the local library, AskUsNow! subject specialist or another organization.

Providers should select an appropriate agency to which to refer the customer and provide the customer with contact information, such as email or postal address, phone number, or website URL.


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 their limit of questions or that 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.

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.