Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Expanding CUNY's Chat Reference Cooperative

For a number of years now, my library (Baruch College's Newman Library) and libraries from five other schools in the City University of New York system (Borough of Manhattan Community College, Brooklyn College, CUNY Graduate Center, Hunter College, and John Jay College) have been sharing a subscription to QuestionPoint and its academic reference cooperative service. Lately, a few other libraries in CUNY have expressed interest in joining our subscription group. For a number of reasons, I really hope at least one library does decide to participate.

First, any additional institutions in CUNY that join our subscription group will help lower prices for the currently subscribing CUNY schools. QuestionPoint's annual fees consist of three things: flat charges for a "service unit profile" and a "base management environment" and a charge for membership in the larger QuestionPoint cooperative reference service that is based on your subscription group's total FTE (for public libraries, I think it is based on the population numbers for your service area). With each additional college in CUNY joining our cooperative, the cost of the flat charge for the service unit profile and the base management environment is proportionally smaller for each already subscribing institution. The quote I just got from QuestionPoint also shows that the FTE costs would go down a bit if we added one or two more members to our subscription group. So while the overall cost to Baruch is still not trivial, it would go down if we can get some more members to share the subscription fees.

The second reason why I'm eager to have more CUNY schools join our cooperative is because having a 24/7 service is quite a major selling point to our students. CUNY students tend to work part or full-time jobs, juggle family responsibilities, and, in general, lead fairly complicated lives with hours that don't always mesh well with the hours of our physical libraries. (This report offers a nice profile CUNY's undergraduates, including the interesting data point that 41% of undergrads work for pay for 20 or more hours a week.)

I should also disclose here two things. First, I am on the QuestionPoint 24/7 Reference Advisory Board, a group that helps guide policy for how the academic and public cooperatives should work. Second, I should mention that although I really like the cooperative reference service itself that QuestionPoint offers, I am not blind to the price advantages offered by other chat/IM options and some of the features those tools offer that aren't in QuestionPoint (yet).

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