Services & Policies - Spring 2003

Question Point Expands Online Reference Service

Marketing publications emphasize consumer demand for 24x7 shopping and customer services. Students often have body clocks that vary greatly from those of us structured to operate in the nine to five world of work. As we recall from our own undergraduate days, we regularly started our papers in the hours when class, dinner, and socializing were complete. This often meant somewhere between the hours of midnight and 7 A.M. Although the Weinberg Library prides itself in extensive service hours for its public service desks (until 11:30 P.M. most nights), this does not always coincide with the needs of the student patrons who may want information at 3 A.M. Although students may now submit an email question to the "Ask a Librarian" box on the Library's Electronic Indexes page, the turn around time varies, averaging four to eight hours and is limited to the traditional email functionality. QuestionPoint adds another dimension of service to the Weinberg Library's resources and offers the possibility of asking a "live" reference question via chat beyond that midnight hour.
 
The QuestionPoint Service, now a link off the Library's homepage, will allow patrons to submit questions to qualified reference staff in libraries around the world at any time of the day or night. The question is automatically routed to an available staff member in the Weinberg Library (during regular operating hours) or to another library that participates in the Global Reference Network if it is asked after nor mal operating hours of the Weinberg Library.
 
QuestionPoint is a service that was developed by the Library of Congress and OCLC Online Computer Library Center. QuestionPoint helps libraries work together to provide authoritative answers to reference questions. If staff at the Weinberg Library is unable or unavailable to answer it, the question can be sent to experts at another library, even if those experts are across the country or around the world. Ninety-five U.S. libraries are currently participating in the program and over 100 libraries outside of the U.S. have signed on as well. If, for example, a student at the University of Scranton has a detailed question about New Zealand, they could actually get an answer from an expert in New Zealand.
 
Public Services staff recently completed an all-day training session on QuestionPoint. Weinberg librarians were given an overview of the service, and then participated in hands-on chat, traditional email reference, and the opportunity to read the questions that had been answered and logged onto the system since its inception. They also learned how to create their own knowledge base so that frequently asked questions (often the type of question from repeat assignments) can be stored on a server and consulted when the need arises. Although the Weinberg Library has signed on to the QuestionPoint service, we expect that the Spring 2003 semester will serve as trial and error, with some fine tuning to tailor the system for individual needs. Some of the enhancements that will be available in the future are application sharing (where the reference librarian will be able to "push the page" onto the user's pc and demonstrate the proper searching techniques) and streaming video, where the reference librarian will be able to interact more fully with the patron asking the question. Look for more detailed information and location of the QuestionPoint logon on the Royal News during the upcoming months.

Betsey Moylan