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David Lee King

We’ll Answer Within Two Business Days



is this your electronic reference service?Here’s a pic of the reference desk at Anywhere Public Library in Fakeola, USA. As a service to their customers, they decided to create a sign letting their patrons know that their questions might not be answered right away.

After all, some questions simply aren’t answered instantaneously – staff might need to wander out in the stacks to find an appropriate resource, or the question might lend itself to a lengthy reference interview. And once in a great while, questions really DO take up to 2 days or so to get answered, so it seemed like the right thing to do to post this sign.

When asked about their sign, here’s what library staff said:

  • “in my experience, most questions do NOT take 2 days to answer, but isn’t it better to give a max time in the event that a question needs more thorough research? Librarians actually DO have other things to do with their time after all.”
  • “While it’s nice to say “We’ll get back to you as soon as possible”, some patrons want a definitive time frame.”
  • “We posted the “factual” limits and the 48 hour turnaround to buy ourselves wiggle room and to avoid the open-ended questions”
  • “Why does every question have to be answered right NOW? Honestly, if you need an answer right away, there’s this lovely invention called a telephone.”

OK – obviously, I’m fudging a bit. My reference desk pic is fake (my Photoshop skills astound no one). But the answers from “library staff?” These are all quotes from real librarians, commenting on my two previous posts about electronic reference service needing a reboot.

Some readers who thought my post was a bit over the top said one of three things:

  1. you have to give patrons a time frame [even though we mostly answer these questions pretty fast].
  2. you simply can’t answer lengthy reference questions via email or IM.
  3. We’re not discriminating and how dare you suggest we are! [OK, you’re right. I used that word on purpose – made ya look! :-) ]

So – what do you think? Do you have to give patrons a time frame online? Are most of your email/electronic reference questions answered pretty fast? Do you think that long or detailed reference queries can be handled online?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sue

    I just have to comment on point number 2 “you simply can’t answer lengthy reference questions via email or IM.”

    OK- I don’t work in the public sphere – I work in a “special” for a large research organization. My clients are scattered across a continent and are frequently international. If I couldn’t respond to reference questions (lengthy or otherwise) by email we wouldn’t have a service. So I want to tell your commenters that it most assuredly CAN be done and IS done by librarians every day.

  • Sue

    I just have to comment on point number 2 “you simply can’t answer lengthy reference questions via email or IM.”

    OK- I don’t work in the public sphere – I work in a “special” for a large research organization. My clients are scattered across a continent and are frequently international. If I couldn’t respond to reference questions (lengthy or otherwise) by email we wouldn’t have a service. So I want to tell your commenters that it most assuredly CAN be done and IS done by librarians every day.

  • Sue

    I just have to comment on point number 2 “you simply can’t answer lengthy reference questions via email or IM.”

    OK- I don’t work in the public sphere – I work in a “special” for a large research organization. My clients are scattered across a continent and are frequently international. If I couldn’t respond to reference questions (lengthy or otherwise) by email we wouldn’t have a service. So I want to tell your commenters that it most assuredly CAN be done and IS done by librarians every day.

  • http://www.news.software.coop/ MJ Ray

    I sympathise with the “48 hour turnaround to buy ourselves wiggle room and to avoid the open-ended questions”. I can state our targets and produce distribution curves which shows how we actually perform against them, but clients don’t understand probability distributions and take targets as if they’re fixed deadlines, which isn’t always possible, especially when it’s a vague phrasing of a hard problem. What’s the current thinking on the best way to address this?

  • http://www.news.software.coop/ MJ Ray

    I sympathise with the “48 hour turnaround to buy ourselves wiggle room and to avoid the open-ended questions”. I can state our targets and produce distribution curves which shows how we actually perform against them, but clients don’t understand probability distributions and take targets as if they’re fixed deadlines, which isn’t always possible, especially when it’s a vague phrasing of a hard problem. What’s the current thinking on the best way to address this?

  • http://www.news.software.coop/ MJ Ray

    I sympathise with the “48 hour turnaround to buy ourselves wiggle room and to avoid the open-ended questions”. I can state our targets and produce distribution curves which shows how we actually perform against them, but clients don’t understand probability distributions and take targets as if they’re fixed deadlines, which isn’t always possible, especially when it’s a vague phrasing of a hard problem. What’s the current thinking on the best way to address this?

  • davidleeking

    MJ – our problem in the library world is a slightly different one. People come to us with a question or a bit of info they’re looking for (say, for a paper). And our librarians are trained to find that thing, either through our collection and/or through a web resource. Online, some libraries have a stated “up-to” time for answering a question; offline, we never do.

    But I’ve certainly been in situations you describe, too – I’d have to guess that, in the business world, a deadline is a deadline (unless you can show a really good reason why you need more time).

  • davidleeking

    MJ – our problem in the library world is a slightly different one. People come to us with a question or a bit of info they’re looking for (say, for a paper). And our librarians are trained to find that thing, either through our collection and/or through a web resource. Online, some libraries have a stated “up-to” time for answering a question; offline, we never do.

    But I’ve certainly been in situations you describe, too – I’d have to guess that, in the business world, a deadline is a deadline (unless you can show a really good reason why you need more time).

  • davidleeking

    MJ – our problem in the library world is a slightly different one. People come to us with a question or a bit of info they’re looking for (say, for a paper). And our librarians are trained to find that thing, either through our collection and/or through a web resource. Online, some libraries have a stated “up-to” time for answering a question; offline, we never do.

    But I’ve certainly been in situations you describe, too – I’d have to guess that, in the business world, a deadline is a deadline (unless you can show a really good reason why you need more time).

  • http://www.news.software.coop/ MJ Ray

    Yes, different but similar: people come to us with a question or a bit of info they’re looking for (say, for a way to do something with their IT systems) and our tech workers are trained to find that thing out. If we give a deadline, then sure, it’s a deadline, but targets aren’t deadlines.

  • http://www.news.software.coop/ MJ Ray

    Yes, different but similar: people come to us with a question or a bit of info they’re looking for (say, for a way to do something with their IT systems) and our tech workers are trained to find that thing out. If we give a deadline, then sure, it’s a deadline, but targets aren’t deadlines.

  • http://livermore.lib.ca.us/ Renee Romanoff

    If we can’t answer any question immediately, whether it’s by phone, in person, e-mail or im, we always tell the patron we will contact them within 24 hours to provide an answer or other options, such as pushing it up to our consortium reference center. I think of it as a way to reassure them that we take the question seriously, and are doing our utmost to answer it, not that they have to wait because we may have more important things to do. Most of our online questions are answered pretty quickly, and I do think long or detailed questions can be handled online. because we, as are many others, are currently doing it.

  • http://livermore.lib.ca.us/ Renee Romanoff

    If we can’t answer any question immediately, whether it’s by phone, in person, e-mail or im, we always tell the patron we will contact them within 24 hours to provide an answer or other options, such as pushing it up to our consortium reference center. I think of it as a way to reassure them that we take the question seriously, and are doing our utmost to answer it, not that they have to wait because we may have more important things to do. Most of our online questions are answered pretty quickly, and I do think long or detailed questions can be handled online. because we, as are many others, are currently doing it.

  • http://livermore.lib.ca.us Renee Romanoff

    If we can’t answer any question immediately, whether it’s by phone, in person, e-mail or im, we always tell the patron we will contact them within 24 hours to provide an answer or other options, such as pushing it up to our consortium reference center. I think of it as a way to reassure them that we take the question seriously, and are doing our utmost to answer it, not that they have to wait because we may have more important things to do. Most of our online questions are answered pretty quickly, and I do think long or detailed questions can be handled online. because we, as are many others, are currently doing it.

  • Mark

    David,

    In the words of one of my colleagues, you jumped the shark. Why are we rehashing Ask-a-Librarian Services Need a Reboot from January?

    Given today’s current and long term financial realities, wouldn’t a better conversation be devoted to who’s going to be left standing and what will service provision look like 2-5 years down the road. Relevancy and relative cost.

    Mark

  • Mark

    David,

    In the words of one of my colleagues, you jumped the shark. Why are we rehashing Ask-a-Librarian Services Need a Reboot from January?

    Given today’s current and long term financial realities, wouldn’t a better conversation be devoted to who’s going to be left standing and what will service provision look like 2-5 years down the road. Relevancy and relative cost.

    Mark

  • Mark

    David,

    In the words of one of my colleagues, you jumped the shark. Why are we rehashing Ask-a-Librarian Services Need a Reboot from January?

    Given today’s current and long term financial realities, wouldn’t a better conversation be devoted to who’s going to be left standing and what will service provision look like 2-5 years down the road. Relevancy and relative cost.

    Mark

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  • davidleeking

    Mark – Hey, I LOVE Fonzie! Just kidding. Actually, this conversation came up last week in another setting, so it was pretty fresh in my mind again, and I “got it out of my head” by posting. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ve been known to revisit topics…

    Good points on the whole long term thing… where do you want to start?

  • davidleeking

    Mark – Hey, I LOVE Fonzie! Just kidding. Actually, this conversation came up last week in another setting, so it was pretty fresh in my mind again, and I “got it out of my head” by posting. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ve been known to revisit topics…

    Good points on the whole long term thing… where do you want to start?

  • davidleeking

    Mark – Hey, I LOVE Fonzie! Just kidding. Actually, this conversation came up last week in another setting, so it was pretty fresh in my mind again, and I “got it out of my head” by posting. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ve been known to revisit topics…

    Good points on the whole long term thing… where do you want to start?

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  • http://librarianbyday.net Bobbi Newman

    David I’ve been having this same conversation over and over up in Minnesota this week. Today’s my last day but I’m going to show your picture to emphasis my point! Thanks!

  • http://librarianbyday.net Bobbi Newman

    David I’ve been having this same conversation over and over up in Minnesota this week. Today’s my last day but I’m going to show your picture to emphasis my point! Thanks!

  • http://librarianbyday.com Bobbi Newman

    David I’ve been having this same conversation over and over up in Minnesota this week. Today’s my last day but I’m going to show your picture to emphasis my point! Thanks!

  • davidleeking

    Bobbi – excellent! That’s what it’s for!

  • davidleeking

    Bobbi – excellent! That’s what it’s for!

  • davidleeking

    Bobbi – excellent! That’s what it’s for!

  • Stephanie Chase

    But doesn’t this all just come down to customer service basics? If it’s quick and easy to answer, get it done… and if it needs more time, put on the customer service hat and email or IM or tell the person that this is a difficult question that will take a little more time to answer? Patrons seem to need deadlines when they feel like no one is paying attention — isn’t the best thing to do to just show you ARE paying attention?

  • Stephanie Chase

    But doesn’t this all just come down to customer service basics? If it’s quick and easy to answer, get it done… and if it needs more time, put on the customer service hat and email or IM or tell the person that this is a difficult question that will take a little more time to answer? Patrons seem to need deadlines when they feel like no one is paying attention — isn’t the best thing to do to just show you ARE paying attention?

  • Stephanie Chase

    But doesn’t this all just come down to customer service basics? If it’s quick and easy to answer, get it done… and if it needs more time, put on the customer service hat and email or IM or tell the person that this is a difficult question that will take a little more time to answer? Patrons seem to need deadlines when they feel like no one is paying attention — isn’t the best thing to do to just show you ARE paying attention?

  • http://www.news.software.coop/ MJ Ray

    Yes, it’s customer service basics in some ways, but it seems to be behaving differently in information services. Putting on “the customer service hat and email or IM or tell the person that this is a difficult question that will take a little more time to answer” often brings a retort that it’s a perfectly straightforward question – they don’t care for the fact that the answer is spread across N different information sources. Should they care? Should we use resources explaining the difficulty to them, or get on with finding the answer?

    This isn’t an easy circle to square and I’m not sure what the latest thinking on it is. Anyone?

  • http://www.news.software.coop/ MJ Ray

    Yes, it’s customer service basics in some ways, but it seems to be behaving differently in information services. Putting on “the customer service hat and email or IM or tell the person that this is a difficult question that will take a little more time to answer” often brings a retort that it’s a perfectly straightforward question – they don’t care for the fact that the answer is spread across N different information sources. Should they care? Should we use resources explaining the difficulty to them, or get on with finding the answer?

    This isn’t an easy circle to square and I’m not sure what the latest thinking on it is. Anyone?

  • http://www.news.software.coop/ MJ Ray

    Yes, it’s customer service basics in some ways, but it seems to be behaving differently in information services. Putting on “the customer service hat and email or IM or tell the person that this is a difficult question that will take a little more time to answer” often brings a retort that it’s a perfectly straightforward question – they don’t care for the fact that the answer is spread across N different information sources. Should they care? Should we use resources explaining the difficulty to them, or get on with finding the answer?

    This isn’t an easy circle to square and I’m not sure what the latest thinking on it is. Anyone?

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  • http://iamlibrarian.wordpress.com/ Alison R Miller

    I took some time to think about this and I responded in a blog post. Thank you for pointing this out – it needs to be talked about!

  • http://iamlibrarian.wordpress.com/ Alison R Miller

    I took some time to think about this and I responded in a blog post. Thank you for pointing this out – it needs to be talked about!

  • http://iamlibrarian.wordpress.com Alison R Miller

    I took some time to think about this and I responded in a blog post. Thank you for pointing this out – it needs to be talked about!

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  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    Another interesting question is Library Twitter accounts. Do users expect an immediate answer to a DM like for IM, or is it treated more like a email transaction?

  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    Another interesting question is Library Twitter accounts. Do users expect an immediate answer to a DM like for IM, or is it treated more like a email transaction?

  • http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ Aaron Tay

    Another interesting question is Library Twitter accounts. Do users expect an immediate answer to a DM like for IM, or is it treated more like a email transaction?

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  • blonde09

    what does within approximately two business days of feb 5 mean?