Digital Reference as Early Warning System for Systems Issues

Today, while covering chat reference, I noticed an earlier session where a ¬†major problem was reported by a student that no one else had noticed: links to full text in our discovery service (from Summon) had mostly stopped working.This is the first time that a problem has been reported in a chat session or in an email reference query. It seems like the greatest source of news that this database isn’t working, or the full text for that article or journal is unreachable, is from chat and email reference interactions. Problems like this don’t seem to get reported at the reference desk so much. My theory is that if a student is having a problem, they are far more likely to report it immediately than later on; the only way to reach us immediately is through our digital reference services (we also get some from the telephone at the reference desk). Our current admin for our digital reference service does a marvelous job of passing on to me and the head of collection management problems first noted in chat and email interactions.

I’m beginning to think that we might want to explore building out a problem-reporting system that is tied to our digital reference suite from QuestionPoint. It could be coming up with a a system for users who are encountering technical problems to report them within the framework of ¬†our digital reference services using some sort of structured form that gathers the info we need. Or it could be designing a system that makes it easier for librarians to report these issues as they encounter them in reference interactions.

However we decide to work with the information coming in, it’s clear we’ve got a really valuable source of feedback about our systems coming in via digital reference channels and we would be well advised to continue paying close attention to that feedback.

Collaborative email reference at Queens Library

For those of you who aren’t from New York, it may be news that the city actually has three separate public library systems:

All three systems are doing wonderful things despite by underfunded for years. A few days ago, while sitting on a panel to discuss the changing reference landscape, I heard from Donna Ciampi at Queens Library about a really interesting collaborative email reference service for patrons who speak one of the many Chinese dialects. The service is staffed by librarians at Queens Library and the Shanghai Library(!!!) If you go the Chinese language page on the Queens Library site, look for the link for CORS, which takes you to a page with a form (on the Shanghai Library site) for submitting your question.

My goal at the panel was to explain how the collaborative chat reference service in QuestionPoint works and to encourage my audience to consider collaborative reference services an important, growing trend in the way libraries can meet the information needs of users. I noted how hard member libraries in QuestionPoint’s academic cooperative work together, but I must admit here to being amazed by the effort on the part of the librarians at the Queens Library and the Shanghai Library to establish this joint project.

QuestionPoint’s academic cooperative is limited to college libraries in the United States at the moment. Australian libraries that use QuestionPoint on their own have so far resisted joining the cooperative. I have heard, though, that a group of public libraries in the United Kingdom are planning to join QuestionPoint’s public library cooperative soon. I hope that in the coming years we see more and more reference partnerships like the one between the Queens Library and the Shanghai Library.