Working with Customers

Good communication skills in the chat environment

Librarians should be familiar with the Behaviors Binder and the 24/7 Reference Best Practices (.pdf).

Librarians also should strive for the best practices from the RUSA Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers.

Dealing with difficult customers

The anonymity of virtual reference sometimes lends itself to inappropriate behavior.  Here are some suggestions for dealing with difficult customers:


Customers who just wish to “chat” with the librarian should be encouraged to ask a specific question.  If this behavior continues, the librarian 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 librarian should be sent a message (scripted or not) appropriate to the situation.  Here are some examples: 

  • “I do want to help you with this, but you'll need to demonstrate some patience while we search. We aren't able to tolerate rude behavior on this service. Should we continue or just end the call now?”
  • “If you have a question for us, please rephrase it again with more appropriate language.”
  • "By using this service you agree not to send any question or content that is illegal, harassing, libelous, threatening, harmful, or obscene - and does not violate any applicable local, state, national, or international law. Please contact us again when you have a question that we would be able to address here. Goodbye for now.”
  • “Your behavior is inappropriate. Please work with me so I can provide the best service possible to you.”

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

  • "Since you insist on using this kind of abusive language, I'm going to need to end the call. When you have an information question and can use appropriate language, we will be glad to help you then. Goodbye for now.”
  • "Since you insist on acting inappropriately, I am going to need to end the call. We will be glad to help you when you can act appropriately. Goodbye for now.”

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 librarians 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 

Librarians 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 never 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 librarians do need to ask for personal information (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. librarians should have customers type in their own library card numbers and passwords when appropriate. 

Librarian Privacy

Librarians are under no obligation to answer personal questions from customers, such as their real name, gender, location, or schedule.

Explicit Material

AskUsNow! librarians will not intentionally provide pornography to customers of any age. Librarians should inform the customer that questions seeking online pornography are beyond the scope of the service.  A website which contains such language or content can be provided but explicit content not cut and pasted. Example: “lyrics to jay z show me what you got?” (librarian would push:

AskUsNow! librarians 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 librarian 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. Librarians may answer their questions or direct them to the “About AskUsNow!” information on the customer sign-in page. Questions about the service’s policies or management or very specific questions about procedures, funding, or staffing should be referred to the Statewide Coordinator.