Thursday, April 08, 2010

Chat Sessions That Require Followup

As of 20 April 2010, this blog has moved to:

I'm in the middle of another number crunching phase here at Baruch. I'm trying to find an accurate way to estimate the number of chat reference sessions in which the librarian decided to refer the question on for followup via email (in the QuestionPoint system, librarians just bring up the transcript for a question that has been marked for followup, click an "Answer" button, type a reply, hit "Send," and the reply goes off to the email address that the patron provided when they logged in to chat). The QuestionPoint reporting features don't seem to provide a way to identify every single chat session that had some sort of email followup, but by using some comparisons of different reports, I was able to make a defensible estimation that about one in five chat sessions gets marked for followup.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Online Tools to Enhance Instruction and Reference

Just a quick note to mention that I've been trying to settle down in using a handful of tools to extend the reach of content I create for reference and instruction purposes.


I've been playing around with uploading to this site some of the handouts for course-related lectures and workshops that I have taught. Many times, after a workshop is done, a professor I've worked with has asked me for a copy of the handout so she/he can post it to the course blog or website in Blackboard. By putting the document in Scribd, I can give that professor a URL to go to and download the document from. This means I don't have to worry about sending unwieldy (and, ahem, forgotten) attachments. By using Scribd, I can also give the professor an easy way to present that handout online in a document viewer (the "Share" feature gives you embed codes for documents that let you display the document in your blog or website).

Another nice benefit of course is that I'm releasing my handout into the wild on the chance that someone outside of my college may find it useful. Feel free to browse my handouts on Scribd and reuse them (I use the Creative Commons Attribution/Non-Commercial license for any items I upload).

I've had my account on Slideshare for a while now and have mostly used it to host slide presentations that I've created for professional events (workshops for other librarians, etc.) I'm going to try using it more often for course-related workshops that I do here at Baruch, as well. The same benefits that I get from Scribd (better way to share files, network effects from putting your content out on the open web, embed codes) apply to Slideshare as well.

YouTube and Capture Fox

There are times when I'm composing an email reply for a reference question that it just seems too tedious to explain step by step how to do something in a database. Lately, I've been experimenting more often with creating on-the-fly screencasts in which I record what's on my screen and narrate as I go. For a while, I was using Screenjelly (feel free to browse my videos on Screenjelly), but in the past few weeks, I've been relying more on using Capture Fox, a Firefox addon, to record the screencast and my personal YouTube account to host it. The library at Baruch College where I work has its own YouTube account that I could theoretically use to host these screencasts; before I can start using that account, though, my colleagues and I will want to hash out the issues related to publishing video content online under the name of the library.

There are, of course, other options for creating slicker-looking screencasts than what Capture Fox or Screenjelly will allow for (my library has licenses for Captivate, for example), but I'm kind of partial to Capture Fox because it is (a) free (b) fast and (c) lightweight.

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).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Moving Digital Reference to a New Domain

This spring, I hope to migrate this blog from my domain, where it has resided for the past six years to my domain. I'm not sure what would be the best URL for my blog:


With a URL ending in /blog, it will be easier for everyone to type the address in or for me to tell people where my blog is. Having it end in /blog will signal clearly to search engines that the site is a blog. I am kind of partial, though, to the URL ending in /digitalreference as it would neatly pair up my name and the blog title in the URL. Also, if I ever decide to start a second personal blog, it would be easier to add it to my domain.

I'm torn about what to do. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ups and Downs of Video Reference

Earlier this January, Chad Boeninger wrote on his blog, Library Voice, about the lackluster use of the library's video reference service at Ohio University, which is advertised on the Skype portion of the library's Ask a Librarian pages. The library had also been using Skype to power a video reference kiosk located far from the reference desk (the service was ended last fall due to lack of use). Although Boeninger believes that his users may never get on board with the idea of requesting help via video chat, he does not have regrets about the project:
In many circles, our experiment with Skype video reference might be considered a failure.  At my library, we tend to try something while studying it, rather than study it for ages before attempting something new.  While we didn’t get the results we expected with our video kiosk experiment, setting up the service cost us almost nothing.  In the process, we learned about video calling software options, how to configure pages to close automatically with javascript,  discovered how flaky wireless connections and computer applications can be, and much more.  We also learned to be flexible, patient, and try different things to improve the service.
With his post in mind, I was intrigued to see that the Hennepin County Library is considering setting up its own video reference system. At the upcoming Library Technology Conference (March 17-18) at Macalester College, a pair of librarians from Hennepin County Library will give a talk titled, "Video Reference: A Pre-Test and Pilot Project." As noted in the description of the talk, the rationale for piloting such as a service is to address limited staffing options in two new libraries that the library system is opening and to see if the service might also help out in smaller libraries that also want to expand their reference options. Given Ohio University's experience with video reference, it will be very interesting to see if Hennepin County Library finds a way to make such a service work (my fingers are crossed for them!)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Text a Librarian and QuestionPoint to Partner Up

Hot off the presses comes the announcement this morning that Mosio and OCLC have agreed to work together to offer Mosio's Text a Librarian product to QuestionPoint subscribers. The announcement I've just received in my email didn't mention too many specifics about what this really means. I'm hopeful that for those of us who work at institutions subscribing to QuestionPoint already can now add on the Text a Librarian service and see the questions appear in the same web page as our email questions and chat transcript archives.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Helping the Unhelpful

The latest issue of RUSQ (volume 49, issue 2) features an article now sitting at the top of my "to-read" list:

Maness, Jack M., Sarah Naper, and Jayati Chaudhuri. "The Good, the Bad, but Mostly the Ugly: Adherence to RUSA Guidelines during Encounters with Inappropriate Behavior Online." RUSQ 49.2 (2009):  151-162. Web. 6 January 2009. (PDF of print version also available)

Here's the abstract:

Using a scoring rubric based on RUSA’s “Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers” (RUSA Guidelines), librarians’ performance in 106 chat reference transcripts in which a patron was determined to be acting inappropriately were compared to 90 randomly chosen transcripts from the same time period in which no inappropriate behavior was identified. Librarians serving appropriately behaving patrons scored significantly better on two of five major dimensions of the RUSA Guidelines. Recommendations for librarians serving inappropriately behaving patrons and for improving the two affected dimensions are given.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Reference Services Symposium, March 12, 2010

For a number of years, Columbia University has been hosting an invitation-only reference symposium that has periodically attracted quite a bit of attention (the 2007 event featured a debate on the future of the reference desk that generated a lot of discussion beyond the day). This March, the symposium is open to all. Registration is $45. Also noteworthy this year: there is an open call for presentations at the event.
--via ACRL/NY Events and Jobs

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Digital Reference Services in 2009

2009 will probably be remembered by those of us who follow digital reference services as the year that mobile reference services really took off. Between Twitter and text message reference services, there were tons of blog posts, articles, presentations, discussion threads on mailing lists and social networking sites, in which library staff explored how they could embrace (or were already embracing) mobile technology for reference services. In an article in Library Journal this October, Ellyssa Kroski noted the same upward trend in activity around text message reference services. From my perspective, the high point of activity was the first Handheld Librarian Online Conference, which was held in July and, according to the home page of the conference, attracted over 2000 attendees. I was able to listen to only a few presentations on the day of the event, but I found myself taking in many more in the following weeks from the archives of the presentations (a hugely helpful resource!)

Although libraries have actually been using text messages for reference services since 2004, this was the year that the conversation about it grew dramatically. One of the more interesting discussions about text message reference services was whether it was feasible to offer it within a collaborative service. My InfoQuest, a pilot project of the Alliance Library System that allows a group of public and academic libraries to share an account from Altarama's SMSreference service, was the first example I'd heard of where libraries can band together to share the workload for a text message service. Recently, Tom Peters blogged about the unexpected pleasures he's found as a librarian answering questions on the service. Just this past week, Sarah Houghton-Jan broke the news that Mosio's Text a Librarian service would begin offering a service for library cooperatives, too.

As someone who has been deeply involved with a cooperative chat reference service since 2003, I have to admit to being sold on the concept of collaborative reference service and believe that we can provide good service to patrons from each other's libraries with this caveat: there must be systems in place that make it easy for questions to be referred back to the patron's "home library" for immediate followup. The most common objection I hear about collaborative reference services is that it must be impossible to offer quality service to patrons who aren't from your library. In my experience, I've found that the majority of my library's chat reference patrons are satisfied with the service they get from librarians at other colleges in the cooperative we're part of. I don't know how referral works in My InfoQuest or the Mosio service, but if they can make the process of passing questions along for followup seamless (as it mostly is in QuestionPoint), then these new collaborative services may have a chance of attracting a wider customer base. (It is worth disclosing here that I am on the 24/7 Reference Cooperative Advisory Board for QuestionPoint.)

Another newsworthy aspect of mobile reference services is the effort to integrate questions received from patrons on their phones into the digital reference tools that libraries may already have. The innovative folks behind the Library H3lp suite of digital reference tools launched a couple of ways that the service's customers could bring text message questions into the reference workflow:
  1. a SMS gateway that requires the library have a phone running Google Android and a carrier providing wireless services on that phone
  2. a Google Voice gateway for sending and receiving text messages
From Library H3lp's features documentation, it appears that regardless of which option a library chooses to use, SMS messages appear in the same interface that librarians use to have IM sessions with patrons.

QuestionPoint has been thinking about how to make connections with mobile users too. This summer, QuestionPoint announced that it was mapping out how subscribing libraries that have institutional Twitter accounts could have questions flow via Twitter into the QuestionPoint system. I've heard from Susan McGlamery and Jeff Penka at QuestionPoint that the questions received via Twitter would not appear in the same space that chat transcripts and email questions appear in, which would require the librarian to then open up a separate question list in the QuestionPoint interface just to see those tweeted questions.

It is arguable whether Twitter is a useful or viable way to connect up with mobile users, as there are plenty of users (wish I had the stats at the ready here) who send and receive tweets via non-mobile devices (i.e., desktop and laptop computers). QuestionPoint is not alone in looking at how Twitter can feed into question-asking services. LibAnswers, a product from Springshare launched this fall that provides libraries with a hosted question-and-answer web service (patrons ask questions, which get posted to a web page hosted on Springshare's servers, where the answers are then publicly displayed), has a feature allowing a library's Twitter account to hook into it. From what I can tell, LibAnswers can be used as a Twitter client by libraries, who can view tweets or direct messages from patrons who follow the library's Twitter account and post them to the LibAnswers page for that library.

The reference services page for the science library at Yale University advertises its Twitter account that patrons can send questions to as direct messages or as "at messages" (@yalescilib). Joe Murphy at Yale has mentioned that they do get questions via this channel, but I don't have a sense of the actual numbers involved.

Regardless of the channel used for digital reference (Twitter, email, instant messaging, web chat, text messages), there is an opportunity to take the traces of those reference interactions and repurpose them. In the past year, there have been some notable developments in this area. The Reference Extract project released in 2009 a series of three videos that explained in greater detail how this idea, first made public in late 2008, might work (introduction, architecture, details). David Lankes and Mike Eisenberg, who are the minds behind the Reference Extract project, have their eyes on the rich trove of reference interactions from the QuestionPoint service. It will be interesting to see if in 2010 something comes of this innovative project.

A few libraries started using an open source piece of software, KnowledgebasePublisher, to build a publicly searchable database of FAQs. Those questions entered into the system can come from ones that are turning up not just at the reference desk but also in digital reference services. Char Booth at the UC Berkeley Libraries wrote about her library's experience setting up an FAQ using this software. It's notable that when the patron's search of the FAQ system results in a null search, the patron is offered a page with an IM widget for the library's ask a librarian service. As noted in the comments from Booth's blog post and from personal conversations I've had with Chad Boeninger at Ohio University Libraries, Ohio University uses this same software. I may have this garbled a bit, but I believe that the librarians at Ohio go to their installed LibStats software to record questions; then the more notable questions get cherry picked and fed into the FAQ system at Ohio University powered by KnowledgebasePublisher.

In another example of reference interactions been reused, QuestionPoint announced in February 2009 that the knowledgebase its subscribers may submit question/answer pairs to now had 20,000 entries in it. You can search this knowledgebase yourself here to get a sense of what it's like. I'm afraid that I can't talk about QuestionPoint's successes with its knowledgebase and its interesting Twitter plans without also mentioning the troubles they had with the chat software for several months this year. As referred to obliquely by Julie Strange on the Maryland AskUsNow! Staff Blog, many librarians on the QuestionPoint chat reference service were finding themselves frozen out of chat sessions they were in the middle of. By the fall, those problems seem to have been resolved, but not without a residue of frustration being left in the minds of many librarians whose libraries subscribe to the QuestionPoint service.

Finally, 2009 must also be remembered as the year that Google Wave launched a beta version to a limited number of users. Shortly after Google Wave was announced this spring, Jason Griffey was one who wondered early if it might have some place in the digital reference toolbox. In July, a blogger at Nature caught the attention of many with his demo of a robot that could be added to a Google Wave that would make it possible for writers to quickly draw upon citations they've been gathering as they compose in the Google Wave interface. When many of us finally got our invites and started fooling around with Wave, the most common reaction was to be let down, to feel that the product had been overhyped and was not ready for primetime, let alone be capable of powering a reference service (see for example Michelle Kraft's reaction).

I think the potential of Google Wave for reference services can't really be discerned until accounts are widely available and until libraries can begin setting up their own Wave servers (or sharing one). It's my understanding that once you install the code on your own server, you can retool it, customize it, and rebrand it so it fits in more with your other web services. I have no idea what is possible in the way of customization and local control of Wave set up on your servers, but I'm hopeful that it will allow us to really tinker with the software and figure out how to hook it into our digital reference tools we have now and our workflows for receiving and responding to digital reference questions. Perhaps I've bought into too much of the hype in Howard Greenstein's blog post from Mashable about the possibilities for Wave; call me a techno-optimist (particularly one who is very eager to see what 2010 brings to the world of digital reference services).

Did I miss something notable in this analysis? Did I get something wrong? Please let me know in the comments.


Adie, Euan. "Igor: A Google Wave Robot to Manage Your References." Nascent, 26 July 2009. Web.

Altarama Information Systems. "SMSreference." Altarama. 2009. Web.

Booth, Char. "Out of Context." info-mational, 13 May 2009. Web.

Greenstein, Howard. "Google Wave's Massive Potential for Business Users." Mashable, 18 December 2009. Web.

Griffey, Jason. "Catching the Wave." Pattern Recognition, 30 May 2009. Web.

Handheld Librarian Online Conference. 2009. Web.

"HHL1 Recordings." Handheld Librarian Online Conference. 2009. Web.

Houghton-Jan, Sarah. "Mosio's Text a Librarian Now Offers Cooperatives!" Librarian in Black, 16 December 2009. Web.

Joe Murphy. Facebook. 2009. Web.

KnowledgebasePublisher. SourceForge. 2009. Web.

Kraft, Michelle. "What Is Google Wave and Why Should I Care?" The Krafty Librarian, 1 December 2009. Web.

Kroski, Ellyssa. "Text Message Reference: Is It Effective?" Library Journal, 15 October 2009. Web.

Lankes, R. David. "Reference Extract: Call for Support." vimeo. 2009. Web.

Lankes, R. David. "Reference Extract: Concept." vimeo. 2009. Web.

Lankes, R. David. "Reference Extract in 4 Minutes." vimeo. 2009. Web.

Library H3lp. "LibraryH3lp_Features." libraryh3lp. 2009. Web.

Library H3lp. "SMS Gateway: Android Phone." Library H3lp. 2009. Web.

Mosio. "Text Message Solutions for Library Reference Co-ops." Text a Librarian.15 December 2009. Web.

MyInfoQuest. MyInfoQuest. 2009. Web.

Ohio University Libraries. "Frequently Asked Questions." Ohio University Libraries. 2009. Web.

QuestionPoint. "Did You Know...." QuestionPoint: 24/7 Reference Services, 19 February 2009. Web.

QuestionPoint. "User Group Meeting, In Person and Virtual." QuestionPoint: 24/7 Reference Services, 20 August 2009. Web.

QuestionPoint. "Search KB." QuestionPoint. 2009. Web.

Peters, Tom. "The Joy of Text." ALA TechSource, 17 December 2009. Web.

Sessoms, Pam. "Google Voice SMS Gateway." Library H3lp, 3 August 2009. Web.

Springshare. "LibAnswers." Springshare. 2009. Web.

Strange, Julie. "A Word about QuestionPoint Service Interruptions." Maryland AskUsNow! Staff Blog, 22 October 2009. Web.

University of California Berkeley Library. "UC Berkeley Library FAQ." University of California Berkeley Library. 2009. Web.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Presentation on What's Cooking in Academic Reference Services

At the end of November, I led a workshop at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in which I tried to share with a group of mostly public librarians what sorts of trends and innovations were taking place in reference services in academic libraries. Here are my slides (also on Slideshare) and the link to the Google Sites pages I made as an online "handout."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Reference as Relationship Building

In this guest editorial by Lorraine Pellack in the latest issue of RUSQ (volume 49, issue 1), I really liked the common sense approach the author suggests that we follow when answering directional reference questions. Thinking of any reference encounter as an opportunity for relationship building seems like a great strategy to ensure that particular transaction goes well and to make it more likely the patron will come back again with a more challenging and (for the librarian) engaging question.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Becoming a Native Texter

At today's meeting of the Virtual Reference SIG, Alexa Pearce from NYU's Bobst Library made a nice point in her presentation about how librarians need to have the feel for the native texting experience if their libraries are running a text message reference service. When NYU first started its service a year and a half ago, they opted to just get a smartphone to run the service; they are now switching over to use the Library H3lp web interface to receive and reply to text message queries. Pearce noted, though, that during the months that the librarians used a phone to get and send messages, they got a real feel for the medium of SMS that will serve them well. The librarians experienced the communication medium in the same way that the patrons do; through this experience, the librarians have become well attuned to the best practices and conventions of communicating via SMS. The implication is that if you are a librarian and you are about to begin staffing a text message reference service that uses a web interface for sending and receiving messages, it helps if you are already comfortable in using SMS on a phone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tell Those Reference Database Vendors What You Want

Sue Polanka, the Head of Reference at Wright State University Libraries, has posted on her blog today a link to a survey she created that asks your opinion about the utility and value of thirty different features that reference databases (such as Credo, Gale Virtual Reference Library, etc.) should have. She's doing this part of her preparation for a presentation at the next Charleston Conference, where many database vendors will also be in attendance. I just took the survey in under ten minutes.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

WebJunction Presentation on Digital Reference

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting "alongside" QuestionPoint's Susan McGlamery and the Internet Public Library's Alison Miller. The venue was a webinar hosted by WebJunction and titled "Digital Reference Summit: Be Where Your Users Are." It was my first time presenting in a webinar and I found the experience as a presenter a bit odd: alone in my office, I made my 20-minute presentation into my speakerphone while advancing my slides in Wimba Classroom. I had a hard time gauging the reaction of my audience. I also missed the ability to pace around while speaking, which I find helps me burn off any extra energy and anxiety (maybe I'll get a wireless headset for my phone if I'm asked to do an online presentation again).

My contribution to the event was "Digital Reference Options." For the presentation, I posted my slides on Slideshareand created a Google Site as a "handout."Although my slides don't feature notes on them, the pages the handout can give you the gist of what I was talking about.

WebJunction has also thoughtfully posted an audio recording (MP3) of the entire webinar as well as a version that will play back the whole shebang in the Wimba Classroom (for the latter option, you may first want to run the Wimba Classroom setup wizard first). Susan and Alison's presentations and all sorts of other goodies can be found on this WebJunction page that archives the webinar.

Thanks to WebJunction's Jennifer Peterson for inviting me to speak at this event and for doing such a great job of making sure that everything went smoothly for the presenters and the audience (of 200!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Never Know What Kind of Questions You'll Get

A librarian in Florida received a marriage proposal from her boyfriend via the statewide Ask a Librarian service there.