Services & Policies - Spring 2001

Ask a Librarian Arrives at the Library

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 and printing.
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 ( provides further information about reference consultations.
The e-mail address for this service is:, 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.
David Marks