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Guidelines for Chat Sessions

Service is provided by experienced reference staff as determined by each partner library. Staff are experts at Internet searching and have completed the formal 24/7 Reference/Maryland AskUsNow! training.


AskUsNow! staff will exhibit the following 8 competencies:

  • Ability to conduct an effective reference transaction in online environments, including the creation and use of scripted messages;
  • Online communication skills and etiquette for chat, e-mail, and other online communication;
  • Internet searching skills, in particular the ability to choose the best starting points for online searches;
  • Ability to effectively search and demonstrate searching of library databases;
  • Ability to assist online customers in applying critical thinking skills in locating, using, and evaluating information;
  • Basic QuestionPoint troubleshooting skills;
  • Ability to apply reference transaction policies in an online environment (e.g., scope of service, time limits, obscene chat customers, harassment);
  • Commitment to continuous learning and motivation to improve skills in all areas of reference services


Performance Standards

Staff competencies are monitored by each Project Liaison as well as the Statewide Coordinator and Support for Operations through the review of transcripts. Standards of review are based on the Maryland AskUsNow! Behaviors Checklist, the QuestionPoint Best Practices, and the Library of Congress Best Practices. Each week, Project Liaisons will log in as their library's supervisor to run a report and review:

  • At least 20 session transcripts (if available) from the supervisor's Multi Category Report. Consider how your staff is providing service to the cooperative.
  • At least 20 session transcripts (if available) from the supervisor's Summary Report. Consider how your library's customers are being provided service by staff elsewhere.
  • Liaisons are also encouraged to review their Survey Feedback

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


Handling chat sessions

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

AskUsNow! chat provision is the first priority of the person assigned to the shift. The AskUsNow! chat provider may also work on e-mail/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:

  • An office or semi-private cubicle
  • A dedicated Telephone Reference room that is excluded from face-to-face encounters with the public
  • At a public service desk if the library is not open to the public (before or after hours).
  • At home or at another site outside of the library building (if the partner library's policies allow for it).

Responding to the chat

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

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

Following up with the customer

AskUsNow! librarians will follow up with a customer within 72 hours or 3 business days using the virtual reference software.  Such reasons may be:

  • Resources for answering the question are not immediately available online, but can be accessed after the session
  • The librarian is unable to find information during the session, but is confident that he or she could find information given more time (i.e., within 15-20 minutes).
  • Technical problems either with the librarian or the customer that interfered with the regular transaction and an email address has been confirmed or secured.
  • The customer disconnects from a session before the librarian sends information and an email was provided.

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

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

Librarians 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! librarians 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.

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


Transferring a chat session to another online librarian

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

  • The question will take a while to respond to, and the librarian’s shift has ended.
  • The customer’s question requires an expertise or specific resources in another subject area.

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


Ending Chat Sessions

Session Length

Sessions must always be ended in a courteous manner. Customers should never 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 librarian 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 librarian should always 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 librarian 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 librarian 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 librarian 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 librarian if they want to pick up another patron or end the chat.

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

Resolution Codes

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


Ending a Shift

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


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