Virtual Chat Reference Services

As the evening reference librarian in my law library, I often wonder how I can make myself more available to the students that are studying during my time at the reference desk. Like many academic law libraries, we have peak moments where it is guaranteed that I will receive reference questions because 1Ls have assignments to complete, and they have no idea what they are doing or where to look.

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Beyond the excitement of the fall semester when the new students are no longer new, I would like to double the amount of questions I typically receive in a week. As I pondered ways to increase reference questions, I asked myself: If our library had a virtual chat service linked to our website, would our reference librarians receive more questions?

Ultimately, I think I can answer that question with a “yes,” as  students are probably more likely to ask questions via a chat box than they are to ask them in person, especially since they can ask them from anywhere. Also, for the people who do not ask questions because they are terrified they are asking a stupid question, this takes away the intimidation factor of asking questions. Because a chat service will add extra money to our budget, I decided to research a few different services and present them here before I make my case to the holders of the purse strings.

LibraryH3lp

LibraryH3lp was probably the chat service that I saw come up in my research most often, and for good reason. This chat service integrates with Facebook, Ebsco, Summon, ProQuest, and many more. The company also collaborates with Altarama which is used heavily by law firms (in case you’re a firm librarian looking for a better way to reach out). Your library can assign which librarians will take questions at certain times or leave it open to the librarian who is available to answer. LibraryH3lp chat service is customizable and you can embed the chat into any web page, let it float over the page, or have it pop up in its own window. Your library can also customize FAQs that LibraryH3lp can embed into any webpage. LibraryH3lp is completely compatible with mobile and you can even receive and answer questions via text message. It also provides secured SSL encryption for security and privacy. They also offer at a minimum 90-day free trial, and their costs start as low as $225 per year. There are several more features to explore by following the provided link.

QuestionPoint

QuestionPoint provides a complete virtual reference management system. It integrates chat, e-mail, and other tools to give your library a comprehensive view of reference activity. Notably, QuestionPoint allows its subscribers access to local and global reference knowledge bases. These knowledge bases help to identify and answer common FAQs in particular libraries. Your library may choose to create its own local knowledge base or join a group and contribute to a global knowledge base; it is customizable to your library needs. Due to this global cooperative, QuestionPoint can run as a 24/7 chat service. Meaning, when your library closes for the day the reference assistance does not have to stop. I noticed that when law libraries employ the use of this service after hours, there was always a disclaimer that stated if questions came in after regular working hours then the librarian answering the question may not be a librarian from that particular university system. Curious potential subscribers can request a demo, but I could not find specific numbers as far as pricing goes, so you will have to get in contact with one of their sales representatives if interested.

Springshare

We are all familiar with Springshare, as the majority of us use LibGuides in some form or another. Well, Springshare also offers a platform called LibAnswers. LibAnswers allows your library to fully integrate LibChat (and several other features) into all aspects of your websites and social media pages. Your library can answer reference questions via the LibChat box itself, or through text messages, e-mail, twitter, Facebook Messenger, and the possibilities go on. Your library is able to add LibChat or “Ask Us!” widgets to any webpage, and similar to LibraryH3lp, you can completely customize your chat widget to be integrated into the page, display as a pop-up window, or float on top of the page. Further, LibAnswers allows your library to participate in one space when responding to emails that may have been received over night. So, you have the ability to “ticket” emailed questions so they can be assigned accordingly in the LibAnswers platform. In addition, this platform also provides your library with a FAQ builder so that when your librarians have gone home for the day, patrons can search the FAQ entries to see if their answer may be provided to them there. Springshare does offer a free trial of this service, but as far as pricing, you should contact a sales representative for more information.

There are several more impressive features that come with all of the aforementioned chat services; unfortunately, I cannot cover them all here. If someone is using a different service than any of the few that I mentioned here, please comment and let me know what you use and why you think it’s great!

Editor’s note: This article is republished with permission of the author with first publication on RIPS Law Librarian Blog.

Posted in: Information Mapping, Libraries & Librarians, Library Software & Technology, Reference Services
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