Linking to chat services in the catalog and defending coop services
Our library here at Baruch College is part of the QuestionPoint 24/7 Reference service and participates in the academic chat reference cooperative. While helping a faculty member at the New Jersey Institute of Technology this morning, I noticed a neat little feature that appears in the library's catalog when you get a null search. The searcher is presented with this little message placed smack in the middle of the search results screen:
Your search resulted in no hits."Research HelpDesk" is set in that message as a link to a page about the library's IM service (a page that oddly doesn't also link to QuestionPoint, the sevice that brought the patron to me in the first place). If you'd like to see what it looks like, here are null search results in the catalog for my name. (If that search result times out, just go to the catalog yourself and try some searches that will likely result in zero items found.)
Live help from Research HelpDesk.
Unlike the catalog link to the "Research HelpDesk" that only offers connections to the IM service, the library's web site offers a link to "Ask Us..." on the home page that lists the IM and the QuestionPoint services. Although the faculty member I helped must have to come onto the service via the "Ask Us..." link from the library home page, I think it's a great idea to offer links to any live help service (chat or IM) from within your databases and catalog. What NJIT did by making a special, hard-to-miss link appear after a null search is a brilliant idea.
To return to the patron story, I should mention that I was able to steer the faculty member in under 10 minutes to the correct database that offered access to the item he had earlier found in a web search. In that space of time, I did a reference interview to confirm exactly what he was looking for, located on the web the item he was looking for so that I could get the full picture of what I needed to track down in the library's collections, and then used the library's web site to determine which database would definitely have what he was looking for (a database that I have personally never used before).
I hope to find time soon to write a post that will offer a better defense of cooperative chat reference than this the little story above, which argues solely on the basis of anecdotal evidence (and just one picayune anecdote at that). There has been an interesting and lively conversation lately about how well cooperative services can provide quality reference; see Jessamyn West posts here (make sure you check out all the comments) and here, Jenny Levine's post here, Steven Cohen's post here, Luke Rosenberger's response to West and Levine here, Caleb Tucker-Raymond's response to everyone else here, and then Jonathan Smith's post here. There's been a lot of great debate already; I just hope I have something new to add to the conversation.