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:

  • 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 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, open access repositories, and search engines
  • 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.


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:

  • An office or semi-private cubicle
  • A dedicated 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! 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:

  • Promoting:
    • subject specialists and library resources that will add value to the chat, or further help the customer get their reference and library-specific needs.
    • library services (and important library contacts) that complement what the customer is receiving and learning on chat.
    • agencies and nonprofits, and their websites and contact information, that will also help the customer get their reference and library-specific needs.
  • Providing the customers options:
    • For receiving reference and library-specific needs if their questions require more time or in-depth help.
    • If questions are not fully resolved on chat.
    • When the Provider has given enough reference and library-specific help based on their areas of expertise and access to the customer's library resources. 


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

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.