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.

Screencasts for chat reference training

A week ago, my library at Baruch College started officially sharing its subscription to QuestionPoint with the libraries at three other CUNY schools: Brooklyn College, Hunter College, and the CUNY Graduate Center. We are still in a soft launch period now, as the librarians at those other schools will need some time to get acclimated to doing chat reference as part of the 24/7 Reference Academic Cooperative that QuestionPoint offers.

For the purposes of training my colleagues in our consortium about how to use QuestionPoint for chat reference, I slapped together a wiki (I never seem to run out of reasons to launch a new wiki) with links to QuestionPoint documentation, contact info, and a shared schedule. I’ve also finally had a good reason to try using Macromedia Captivate, which had been installed on my machine for a month unused (!), to create some screencasts. My hope is that these screencasts will cut down on the time I have to spend on the phone or composing e-mails with step-by-step instructions.

So far, I’ve got a screencast explaining how to create personal scripts in QuestionPoint and another demonstrating how to assign a resolution code at the close of a chat session. I must confess to have really enjoyed the process of recording the screencast and then tinkering with the pacing and special effects. I hope to have a half dozen of these screencasts done by the end of winter. Any feedback (in the comments section) on what I’ve done so far would be greatly appreciated. If you feel like nosing around our humble little wiki, you can do so here.

QuestionPoint’s blog is now public

For nearly a year, QuestionPoint offered their subscribers a password-protected blog that, for those of us who use web-based aggregators like Bloglines, left us frustrated by our inability to safely add the feed to our reader. This week, QuestionPoint has dropped the password and opened up the blog to all who care to read it. Let’s have a “hurrah” for this move toward greater transparency!

Read the blog here and get the feed here.

QuestionPoint’s strengths and weaknesses

With his latest post about using enterprise IM as a proof-of-concept project for chat reference, Caleb Tucker-Raymond shows himself to be one of the most thoughtful and innovative persons around working in chat reference. How did I learn about this great idea of his? By reading this well-reasoned blog post about “the problem with QuestionPoint,” which itself was crafted in response to Rikhei Harris’ post, “No Love for QuestionPoint.”

I’d have to say that if there’s one thing that I am most annoyed about with QuestionPoint, it’s the buggy co-browsing feature. Yesterday, while doing a training session at Brooklyn College to help set up a chat reference cooperative consisting of the library at my school (Baruch College) and at three other CUNY schools (Brooklyn College, Hunter College, and the CUNY Graduate Center), all was going well with co-browsing demos with web pages and our catalog. Trying to co-browse an authenticated database (most of us at CUNY use EZ Proxy for authentication) was a typical mess: all the gifs from the patron’s and librarian’s interface for the database (in this case, Academic Search Premier) were missing from our screens, making navigation nearly impossible.

How do we get around co-browsing’s funkiness (a work-friendly euphemism) when we need to teach a patron how to run a search in a database? We ask the user to open another browser on their screen, navigate to the database, and then follow our step-by-step instructions typed into the chat window (something that we could do with IM software, too).

Our patrons at Baruch absolutely love that we can offer the service 24/7, and our patron surveys reveal a high satisfaction rate with the service overall (83% say they are “very likely” to use the service again). Without QuestionPoint, it would be very hard to give them the round-the-clock service they need (our students are all commuter students with busy schedules, as most of them work part-time or full-time). For me, the ability to offer cooperative reference around the clock is the biggest reason why we stick with QuestionPoint. But I am also completely sympathetic to the kvetching among librarians about the software itself. In short, I love the service, not the software.