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A day in the life of a chat librarian

Friday, June 10th, 2016 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public | Comments Off on A day in the life of a chat librarian

4078540366_2f3029dfb8_oAubri Keleman of Whatcom County Public Library was born to be a chat librarian.  Well honestly she was born to be ANY sort of librarian, but today I want to tell you about one of her evening shifts covering the Ask WA queue for WCLS.  Ask WA, you ask, what is Ask WA? Ask WA is a cooperative of public and academic libraries around the state which work together along with librarians around the world to provide 24/7 access to library services.

Aubri’s day started out fairly routine with a sixth grader from a Washington library trying to find information about a bookmark contest.  He was the winner for his branch and was excited to receive his prize.  Aubri answered his question, said goodbye and signed off.

The next question though was the kind that wakes you up a little faster than you wish.  The patron asked about poison and the side effects from ingesting something not designed for human consumption. Aubri instantly responded with the 800 number and website for poison control along with a query if he had a phone.  She gave a little information and offered to keep the window open while he called, but was disconnected.

Imagine, for yourself, how she must have felt waiting and wondering if the person at the other end was all right.  Fortunately, this time, the patron logged back on a few minutes later and she was able to reconnect.  She expressed concern, encouraged a call to 911, passed along the information that in Washington we have a law that says if you take someone to the hospital you will not get into trouble.  The patron was having trouble getting poison control on the phone so Aubri herself called and relayed what she learned over chat.  With the information she provided he agreed to head to the ER and signed off leaving Aubri feeling much better about the exchange.  The sentence “You saved my life!” may have taken on a whole new meaning that night.

The final conversation that evening was a great way to end her day.  Aubri is a former teen librarian and especially loves chatting with teens.  This one started out goofy, as teen chat interactions often do.  “I might be socially awkward.”  Followed by “Sorry that was my brother!”  Within a few minutes Aubri had engaged this teen in a conversation about movies, books, and graphic novels; which ones he liked, which ones she liked and why.   She provided great book suggestions with links to his library’s catalog.  Final words from the teenager, “You are the best librarian I have talked to.  Thank you for being so nice.”

Aubri reports that she loves being a chat librarian because there is so much variety.  While every night may not provide quite such an array of questions, we are lucky in Washington to have a team of excellent and experienced chat librarians.  Haven’t tried it?  Next time you have a question from simple to complex, from goofy to life changing, you might want to have a chat with a librarian.

Seattle Public Librarians Wow Teens in SE Washington.

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public | Comments Off on Seattle Public Librarians Wow Teens in SE Washington.

Ask WABelieving that a good way to reach teenagers is through that tool they all so dearly love (their phone), in late September, Ask WA Coordinator Nono Burling headed to SE Washington.  With the start of the new school year she hoped to spread the word about Washington State’s Virtual Reference Cooperative and how it could help them.

But wait, step back!  What is Ask WA you ask?  Ask WA is a cooperative of public and academic libraries around the state that work together to provide 24/7 help from a librarian to Washington residents.  Almost 60 libraries and library systems belong to the cooperative and any library in Washington is eligible to join.  Washington State is one of the “pioneers” for this program.  We have many librarians who have been doing chat reference for many years and are highly skilled.

But back to the road show… Knowing that some of the smaller libraries in our cooperative are hard pressed for time, Nono offered to visit their High School students to tell them about the program.  Asotin County library and The Denny Ashby library in Pomeroy readily accepted the offer and made arrangements with their local high schools.

Day one: Clarkston High School.  Asotin County Library has adopted the Library Now app which WSL developed a few years ago.  This was a boon as there is a live webpage where she could demo just how it would look on a student’s smartphone.  The teachers allowed the kids to get out their phones and install the app right then and there.  In each class Nono talked about the service, showed how to find the download app on the Asotin County Library’s webpage and then connected with a librarian.  During the early morning classes we chatted with librarians on the east coast but later in the day it was all Washington librarians.  The kids asked great questions and were very excited to be chatting live with a librarian.  Best story from Clarkston … the sophomores.  After the first “normal” question a hand was raised.  “Ask her ‘Why did the plane crash?’” “Hmmm…Can you give me a bit more information?”  “Oh it’s a joke.” So the question was typed in clarifying that it was a joke.  While the librarian was searching the answer was requested.  “Because the pilot was a loaf of bread!”  ??? The whole class looked dumbfounded; this made no sense.  Then up on the screen, an answer from the librarian, “Because the pilot was a loaf of bread!”  The class erupted!  Point and Match to Jen from Seattle Public Library!

Day two: Was a repeat performance in Pomeroy.  The school had set up a schedule so that over the course of the day Nono would see every 7th-12th grader in Pomeroy.  Bouncing back and forth between two classrooms she chatted with librarians from as far away as Maine and Minnesota. But then a Seattle Public Librarian named Becky stepped in.  Apparently she enjoyed herself because she picked up class after class.  “Hello 7th grade!”  She completely WOWed the kids fielding questions from “How tall is Mount Everest?” (29,029 feet) to “How many bones does a dog have?” (It depends on the breed, tail bones you know!), to “How many strands of hair does the average person have?” (Every half square inch of the human skin has about 10 hairs.) “Ewwwww!”  One Reader’s Advisory question had the kids scrambling for a pencil to write down the recommended books. The kids were very impressed and excited enough to return often over the next few weeks.

All in all it was a successful visit, and the students of SE Washington now have a new place to find answers when they are stuck on an assignment.  Are you an Ask WA member that is interested in having Nono visit your school? Are you not currently a member library but would like to know more about the program?  Either way please contact Nono Burling.

Ask WA- Washington’s Virtual Reference Cooperative

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Technology and Resources | Comments Off on Ask WA- Washington’s Virtual Reference Cooperative

aubriImagine you are out and about and have a burning question.  Or maybe you have a big paper due tomorrow and there is something you need to cite that defies all logic.  What do you do?   Pull out your smartphone or tablet, or log on to the internet and Ask a Librarian of course.  Ask WA is the statewide virtual reference cooperative coordinated by Washington State Library.  Nearly 60 public and academic libraries around the state take part in the program.  Ask WA is also part of a global network of libraries that are available to answer questions 24/7.  Yes that’s right, 24/7.

Now imagine you are a teenager and the idea of actually visiting a library or talking to a librarian is either too scary or soooo uncool. But honestly you still need their help.  Ask WA is the perfect solution.  With the thought in mind that teenagers have their phones practically glued to them and love text as a form of communication, Whatcom County Library’s Ask WA Administrator, Aubri Keleman decided to do something about pairing the two.  Working with school librarians in her service area Aubri arranged a day where she could visit eleven classes of middle schoolers to demonstrate the service.   Just that statement sounds a little overwhelming but the preparation involved was so much more.  While the service has librarians available around the clock, having 30 students login at one time is more than it can handle, particularly all day long.  But it’s a cooperative right?  Whatcom County librarians as well as librarians from all over the state and even country volunteered to take on extra shifts.  Aubri created a great list of Q&A’s for the kids to use so that the librarians would be prepared with good answers.  The big day arrived and we were off to the races!

Over the course of the school day Aubri visited the classes, demoed the chat service and then had the kids login and try it.  315 questions were asked and answered in that one school day.  They wouldn’t be Middle Schoolers if there weren’t a few “Yo dog” type of questions but on the whole the kids were polite and asked good questions.  (An aside, the school librarian explained that “yo dog” is a sign of respect!)  Aubri reported that they were excited to be chatting with a real person, and wanted to know about them.   They were really excited when they got someone from out of state and of course, they loved having permission in school to pull out their phones.

Comments from the kids:

“Thanks that was awesome!”

“That was very helpful”

“Thank you that is exactly what I was looking for.”

“They were very helpful! Thank You!”

It sounds like the day was a big success and that the 7th and 8th graders of Mount Baker Middle School have discovered a new way to get help with their homework.

Currently almost 60 libraries and library systems in Washington participate in Ask WA. Are you interested in learning how your library can participate? Just contact Ask WA Coordinator Nono Burling.

Cooperative Projects from Library Development

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Grants and Funding, Technology and Resources | Comments Off on Cooperative Projects from Library Development

Ft. Vancouver Regional Library downtown branch As a further recognition of National Library Week, we offer this overview of several cooperative projects that benefit libraries statewide.

The WSL Library Development staff coordinates several cooperative statewide projects which leverage the combined purchasing power of libraries throughout the state to save significant amounts of money for Washington libraries. In addition, LSTA (Library Services & Technology Act) funds provided through IMLS (The Institute for Museum & Library Services) are used to subsidize or kick start cooperative purchasing arrangements, helping libraries break into new areas such as virtual reference, eBooks, or downloadable audiobooks.

The oldest example of these kinds of projects is Statewide Database Licensing (SDL), which since 1997 has been providing a suite of research databases to public, academic, K-12, medical, and research libraries statewide. Library Development staff also coordinate library funded group purchases for other products; past examples include the online version of Consumer Reports, and an automotive repair database; a current example is Zinio, a very popular new platform for reading magazines online. It has been conservatively estimated that SDL saves Washington libraries over $20 million annually.

A more recent example is Off the Page: Downloadable Audiobooks and eBooks for Washington, which has helped libraries provide these new formats to their patrons. 31 public library systems in Washington are now able to offer both e-books and audiobooks via the Washington Anytime Library, and several more libraries are in process to join this consortium. More than 40 public and academic libraries, as well as over 300 K-12 school libraries are offering downloadable audiobooks via a statewide contract with another vendor.Ft. Vancouver High School Library

Another area in which Washington libraries are successfully working together is in providing access to 24×7  virtual reference services to their patrons. Via Ask-WA, more than 60 Washington libraries, both public and academic, are providing online reference services through chat, e-mail, and instant messaging (IM) technologies.

Just being rolled out as we write, is a brand new project, Connect with Your Library: A Mobile App for Washington, which in partnership with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, is providing the opportunity for public and academic libraries to offer their services via a user-friendly mobile application (app). The app will let users locate libraries, place holds, renew materials, download eBooks, or check to see if the library has an item, and more, all from the mobile device they carry in their hand.

These programs and others like them are great examples of how under the leadership provided by the WSL Library Development Program, LSTA funds are used to assist in providing a level playing field, such that smaller libraries can provide their patrons with the same kinds of services and resources that otherwise might be restricted to the larger library systems, while simultaneously providing assistance to all Washington libraries, both large and small.

Ref22: Mastering the Reference Interview

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, Training and Continuing Education | Comments Off on Ref22: Mastering the Reference Interview

Ref22-Logo Did you miss out on the live Ref22 webinar this week? Never fear! All Ref22 sessions are archived and available on the website at Ref22: Archived Sessions.

For our October session we had Christa Werle  from Sno-Isle Libraries talking about mastering the reference interview. Check it out!

Whatever our official status, our users think of us all simply as “the librarian.” Join us during October’s Ref22 to discuss how library staff of all levels can engage (and sometimes disengage) our users to best meet their information needs.

Sno-Isle Libraries offers this training quarterly to all staff that work at a public information or customer service desk. The training is a mix of “Reference 101” (for paraprofessionals) and “Reference Refresher” (for librarians).

With a focus on working as a team, this training reminds us of our best practices in how to be a community doorway to reading, resources, and lifelong learning.

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Ref22: When Teens Attack!

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, Training and Continuing Education | Comments Off on Ref22: When Teens Attack!

Ref22-Logo Did you miss out on the live Ref22 webinar last week? Never fear! All Ref22 sessions are archived and available on the website at Ref22: Archived Sessions.

Last week we had Jen Robinson from the Seattle Public Library talking about serving teens (and other “difficult” patrons) via chat. Check it out!

The September edition of Ref22 is proud to present, “When Teens Attack!: Tips for dealing with 12-year-olds and other difficult customers on chat reference” (presented in High-Definition PowerPoint).

Jen Robinson of The Seattle Public Library attempts to explain the reasons why teens (and tweens) are the way they are, and presents some clever ways to best help the under-18 set via online chat.

Virtual and physical reference librarians and any library staff that regularly serve teens will find this session of interest.

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Thoughts on Innovation in Reference Services

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, Technology and Resources, Training and Continuing Education | Comments Off on Thoughts on Innovation in Reference Services

Last Friday I had the pleasure of [virtually] being part of a panel at the WLA / PNLA conference in Victoria. The panel was called “Reference Service Innovations: Present and Future”, and my fellow panelists and I were given some excellent questions to consider.

Since I wasn’t sure how the technology would play out (I was a virtual presenter on a panel that was otherwise physically present AT the conference), I recorded the questions with my answers and sent them along so that I could be represented even if the technology failed. Thankfully, it didn’t, and I’m happy to have my thoughts recorded so that I can share them here with you.

The questions were provided by Heather McLeland-Wieser at the Seattle Public Library. These answers represent some of my thoughts on the future of reference service. I hope they’re of interest, and that you’ll share your thoughts as well in the comments.

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WSL Updates for August 12, 2010

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 Posted in For Libraries, Grants and Funding, News, Training and Continuing Education, Updates | Comments Off on WSL Updates for August 12, 2010

Volume 6, August 12, 2010 for the WSL Updates mailing list

Topics include:








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WSL Updates for April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 Posted in For Libraries, Grants and Funding, News, Training and Continuing Education, Updates | Comments Off on WSL Updates for April 15, 2010

Volume 6, April 15, 2010 for the WSL Updates mailing list

Topics include:







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Ask-WA(tch): Stats, Kudos and Comments for Dec 2009

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010 Posted in Articles, For Libraries | 2 Comments »

Ask-WA Statistics – December, 2009

December Survey Comments WordcloudDecember tends to be a slower month for Ask-WA, mainly because academic traffic drops off so sharply during the holiday breaks. In numbers:

  • Email questions received: 3319
  • Chat sessions requested: 3474
  • Chat sessions accepted: 2883
  • Qwidget requests (% of total): 791 (22.8%)

On a positive note, our answering percentage rose from its dangerously low 74% last month up to 83% in December, which is ideal. The best part is that this higher ratio is due to every cooperative maintaining a good ratio in December (as opposed to one group doing super-well and raising the rest up). Qwidget requests, as a percentage, rose from November to come back up to their average 20-25% level.

The word cloud highlights some of the most-used words left in survey comments throughout December. Some great words this month include: amazing, awesome, prompt, kind, helpful, useful, and wonderful.

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