Patrons increasingly want electronic access
to the resources of the library whether the
users are in the library or at a remote location.
A new feature offered by the Library to fulfill
this need is called "Ask a Librarian."
"Ask a Librarian" is an electronic
reference tool created to assist patrons with
questions or inquiries. Unlike visiting the
library or calling on the phone, "Ask
a Librarian" uses e-mail to fill these
requests. E-mail reference is a solution created
by many libraries to enable patrons to receive
reference assistance without inconveniencing
the patron. The patron merely composes an
e-mail to the reference department, stating
the question, and can check his e-mail later
for a response. The types of questions that
can be posed are the same as ones that would
be asked by phone or in person, such as questions
dealing with research, assistance accessing
databases, or library holdings. The service
can be accessed by clicking with a mouse on
either the "What's New"
or "Electronic Request Forms"
sections of the library's webpage.
All patrons that use the library are eligible
to submit questions. Library users that are
not members of the University community (faculty,
staff, students, or alumni) can still use
this service but are subject to the licensing
restrictions for databases that limit their
use for the general public. The form requires
the patron to include name, e-mail address,
and patron status (undergraduate, graduate,
faculty/staff, or other). A question box is
provided for the information request. Beneath
the information request box, there is space
for background information to tell the librarian
where the patron has already searched.
The goal of the reference staff is to respond
to every question that is sent within a 24
hour period. This time frame depends on the
question and the information found. The type
of information sent to the patron is either
bibliographic or full-text. Internet sites
are included when appropriate. Like other
reference tools, this service will point the
patron in the right direction to gather sources.
Along with reference assistance, this service
also assists patrons with technical questions
such as how to access databases from home
as well as information regarding e-mail accounts
Rather than replacing those services, "Ask
A Librarian" complements the other services.
For traditional reference where a patron visits
the library, e-mail reference saves the patron
time and can even accelerate the research
process. A patron preparing to complete an
assignment can use the electronic reference
service to focus his research on a topic before
consulting with a librarian. The patron can
obtain an idea of the types of materials available
at the library as well as online. For telephone
reference, the patron has to articulate the
request for information verbally. Quite often,
expressing a need for information over the
telephone is difficult for some patrons. E-mail
reference permits a patron to phrase a question
in his own words and take as long as he needs
to express this request in writing. A patron
can always use "Ask A Librarian"
to schedule a reference consultation in person.
The Frequently Asked Questions page (http://web2.scranton.edu/wml/ask_a_librarian_faq.html)
provides further information about reference
The e-mail address for this service is: firstname.lastname@example.org,
and this service is monitored everyday that
the library is open. Statistics regarding
who contacts the library with this service
are kept, so that the library can better accommodate
the needs of remote users. The statistics
gathered consist of the patron type, subject
of the query and the response time. These
statistics assist the library in collection
development and web development ideas.
"Ask A Librarian" is another effort
to accommodate the needs of the library's
patrons. Remote reference assistance grows
as the library continues to add more resources
that can be accessed outside the library's
walls. E-mail reference at the Weinberg Library
successfully addresses this demand.