By Beth Cartier
Maryland AskUsNow! is celebrating its 10th anniversary — a decade of providing 24/7 live online reference service and research assistance from trained librarians. Frederick County Public Libraries is one of 44 public, academic and special libraries in the state that participate in this online service. Currently, FCPL has 13 librarians who participate.
In order to provide 24/7 service, Maryland AskUsNow! is a partnering member of an international consortium called QuestionPoint 24/7 Reference Cooperative. There are more than 1,000 libraries that participate in the cooperative, either individually or as part of a larger group such as a statewide service like Maryland AskUsNow!
“I love that I am able to help patrons from any location through AskUsNow!” said FCPL librarian Liz Bowen. “Whether they are at home, in the office or travelling overseas, they can reach a librarian online 24 hours a day! That’s pretty neat.” Being part of the consortium not only allows patrons to have 24/7 research assistance but also gives participating librarians the opportunity to provide reference services to patrons from around the world.
As of July 2013, Maryland AskUsNow! librarians have answered 494,585 questions through chat or by email. When asked what has been the most challenging or interesting question they have answered on AskUsNow! FCPL librarian Emily Dolly said, “I received a query from someone who wanted real reference resources for the age-old question, ‘Which came first-the chicken or the egg?’ I didn’t know this before I started researching for this patron, but there are actually several scientific articles dedicated to answering this question. (Spoiler alert: it’s the egg.)” Further, she continued, “I love helping library users from ‘across the pond.’ I’ve learned about everything from British driving exam requirements to which buildings once stood at World War I bombing sites in an English patron’s neighborhood.”
With the new school year beginning, parents and students should keep AskUsNow! in mind. It is a great resource for help answering those tough homework questions. Students and parents can log on any time, day or night, to get assistance, and when the chat session ends they can opt to have a full transcript emailed to them, including any links to resources that were used to answer their original question. Since AskUsNow! is a 24/7 service, patrons may not always get a librarian from FCPL or from Maryland. However, there is no need to worry. All librarians who participate, whether through AskUsNow! or through the cooperative, go through training in virtual communication strategies. This includes instruction on how to conduct a proper virtual reference interview, how to find reliable online resources and how to provide instruction to patrons in a virtual setting. The goal of AskUsNow! is to connect patrons to librarians, resources and information using today’s advanced technologies.
AskUsNow! is accessible from www.askusnow.info or through a direct link on the Frederick County Public Libraries website, www.fcpl.org. You can also reach AskUsNow! through www.twitter.com/askusnow and www.facebook.com/askusnow. Maryland AskUsNow! is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, LSTA grant funds, through the Division of Library Development and Services, Maryland State Department of Education.
Editor’s Note: Beth Cartier is a Frederick County Public Library associate at Urbana Regional Library and an AskUsNow! librarian.