WMU News

Librarians now available live in cyberspace

Oct. 14, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Ever wish you had a librarian sitting next to you at home while you're in the throes of research? How about when you're looking up information online at the library and you need some help, but you're hesitant to leave your terminal lest someone snatch it away?

In late September, Western Michigan University librarians started making themselves available live online to answer all manner of questions from cyber patrons. A pilot project called "Ask a Librarian" will run through the fall and spring semesters of the 2002-03 academic year. Through a program similar to AOL's Instant Messenger, librarians are communicating directly with students, faculty, staff and community members.

The real-time reference service, which can be accessed online at <www.wmich.edu/library>, is designed to help patrons by providing factual information, details about services and collections, and technical help using library research tools. For example, a cyber librarian can guide a user through a database search to find articles or statistics on a particular topic. The software allows the librarian and patron to explore the Web and search databases together, while communicating by chat. When the session is finished, the user can opt to print or receive via e-mail a transcript of the conversation, including links to any Web sites visited.

For those whose questions can't be quickly answered, the librarian will follow-up with an e-mail or phone call.

"We've had e-mail reference for some time, which meant people could e-mail us questions and we'd respond within a day or two," says Donna Ring, a WMU reference librarian who is coordinating the project. "Obviously, the real-time format is much more convenient for our patrons. Plus, everyone who has been trained on the system so far has found it quite enjoyable."

Seven WMU librarians are currently staffing two "Ask a Librarian" shifts, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and from noon to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays. Although there are no current plans for 24-hour-a-day service, Ring does expect the hours to be expanded later this semester.

Media contact: Jessica English, 269 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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