More Chat in the Catalog

Remember my post on TSCPL’s Meebo chat widget embedded in our library catalog? Since then, we have stopped using the Meebo Me widget. It was great – it helped us start our IM reference service, and it was easy to embed pretty much wherever we wanted. But we grew out of it!

We discovered a few shortcomings, like not being able to send hotlinks through it, and our public services staff really wanted the ability to send an IM to someone else. So now, we’re using Libraryh3lp for our IM reference service. Libraryh3lp gives us those added benefits and more.

And we’re doing a few different things with the catalog embed, too. Here’s a pic of the keyword, No Records Found search:

New version of the Chat Reference service in the catalog

We’re trying to make instructions clear, friendly and attractive. If you click the Ask Now button, you get a tiny IM widget pop-up page. Why pop-up? With our Meebo widget, we discovered that a lot of people would start asking a question, then click something … and they’d be gone, because they had clicked away from the page with the embedded IM widget. Bumer! With our new pop-up version, that problem is solved. Users can click away all they want … and still interact with us.

But even cooler than that – Michael, our web designer (one of his many hats) discovered a way to embed a similar thing on the Search Results page:

Search Results page - Chat added!

This provides more opportunities for patrons to ask questions when they get stuck on a search – even if they’re finding things. Basically, they have access to us ON EVERY SEARCH they do.

And not just IM access – that’s provided via the Ask Now button. But we also include our phone number and a link to our email Ask a Librarian form.

We’re excited about this – should be fun to see if we get more catalog-related questions.

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?