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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 | 2 Comments »

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.

WSL Updates for November 12, 2015

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 Posted in For Libraries, Training and Continuing Education, Updates | Comments Off on WSL Updates for November 12, 2015

Volume 11, November 12, 2015 for the WSL Updates mailing list

Topics include:







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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.

Virtual Reference in Prison

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Virtual Reference in Prison

Librarians at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center Shelton, and Washington State Penitentiary, have started using kiosks at their local institutions to send overdue notices and hold pickup notices to offenders. We are also answering questions submitted by offenders.  The result has been even better than expected!  At Coyote Ridge, we have drastically reduced our paper usage by sending the notices over the kiosk.  The new system is a win-win for staff and offenders alike; correctional officers don’t have to distribute the paper notices to individual offenders, and offenders get their notices instantly. Quicker delivery of notices may even shorten the time that high demand items will sit on the hold shelf, waiting to be retrieved.

 I have also noticed a growing volume of “electronic mail” (kiosk version) that we are receiving from offenders, now that they realize they can send messages to the library’s electronic mailbox.  I’ve received countless messages that simply thank us for our services, and some that make suggestions for improvement or ask us to purchase their favorite books and music.  They also ask questions about library policies and ask us to check their accounts for overdue items, and attempt to resolve item return issues over the kiosk. 

The beauty of this new system is, to me, three-fold: 1) offenders are learning how to communicate effectively in an electronic world, a skill that is critical for successful re-entry, 2) conflict resolution is handled in writing, rather than face-to-face, which may encourage both parties to think about what they say before they say it, and 3) both offenders and staff are able to communicate in a much more efficient and organized way.  I can send messages to multiple offenders at once, and I can send them instantly rather than waiting 1-4 days for mail delivery and response time.  I can also answer questions in batches, rather than responding immediately every time someone has a question the library clerks can’t answer, and without asking offenders to wait in line at the counter to talk to a staff person. I can’t help but think this is the prison equivalent of virtual reference, and that is exciting!

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

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 Posted in Articles, For Libraries | Comments Off on Ask-WA(tch): Stats, Kudos and Comments for Nov 2009

Ask-WA Statistics – November, 2009

November Survey Comments Wordcloud Ask-WA slowed down a bit in November compared to October, but since we were super-extra busy in October, that isn’t saying too much. November numbers were still well ahead of September, August, and July numbers, especially in terms of chat sessions requested. In numbers:

  • Email questions received: 3743
  • Chat sessions requested: 4912
  • Chat sessions accepted: 3645
  • Qwidget requests (% of total): 965 (19.6%)

As a cooperative we maintained an answering percentage of 74% for the month, which is down significantly from previous months, and falls just below our goal percentage of 75%. This is due to some drag in the public cooperative, but I’m sure we can dust ourselves off and bring the numbers back up! Chat continues to dominate email, though both services remain well-used. Qwidget traffic dropped this month to just under 20%, down from a fairly consistent 25% in previous months.

The word cloud highlights some of the most-used words left in survey comments throughout November. Some great words this month include: wonderful, excellent, fast, quick, great, impressed, and love.

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

Monday, November 16th, 2009 Posted in Articles, For Libraries | Comments Off on Ask-WA(tch): Stats, Kudos and Comments for Oct 2009

October Survey Comments Wordcloud Ask-WA Statistics – October, 2009

Ask-WA picked up significantly in October, beating September and August in every category. Except Qwidget requests, which remained about even, percentage-wise. In numbers:

  • Email questions received: 4287
  • Chat sessions requested: 5303
  • Chat sessions accepted: 4343
  • Qwidget requests (% of total): 1282 (24.2%)

As a cooperative we maintained an answering percentage of 81.9% for the month, which is down nearly 5% from September (probably because of the increased traffic), but remains well over the goal rate of 75%. Keep up the good work! The email aspect of the service continues to enjoy plenty of traffic, though the chat service blossomed this month and beat email by over 1,000 questions. Qwidget traffic remains consistent at around 1/4th of the total chat traffic.

The word cloud highlights some of the most-used words left in survey comments throughout October. The larger the word, the more it was used, so it’s nice to be able to easily pick out (because of their size), words like: great, helpful, wonderful, excellent, useful, impressed, nice, easy, and love.

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Internet Librarian, Day 3 – Tuesday, Oct 27 2009 – #IL2009

Friday, October 30th, 2009 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, Technology and Resources, Training and Continuing Education | Comments Off on Internet Librarian, Day 3 – Tuesday, Oct 27 2009 – #IL2009

image Day three started off with a funny and interesting keynote with Paul Holdengraber (who had interviewed Vint Cerf the previous day), and continued in good form with some great sessions. Paul talked a lot about the Live from the NYPL series they do and as opposed to doing straight author readings. They record these sessions and they are available on the website, so you should check some of them out.

Sessions on Day 3 include:

  • Keynote: Libraries of the Future: Places of Desire
    Paul Holdengraber, Director of Public Programs, New York Public Library
  • Making Virtual Reference Multidimensional
    William Breitbach & Mike Demars, California State University @ Fullerton
    Linda Bedwell, Dalhousie University Libraries
  • Web 2.0 for Tough Times
    Jaye Lapachet, Camille Reynolds, Kendra K. Levine
  • Library Website Improvement Face-Off
    David Lee King, Frank Cervone, Amanda Etches-Johnson, Aaron Schmidt, Jeff Wisniewski

Other IL posts: Index | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

Full session notes available after the cut.

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

Thursday, October 8th, 2009 Posted in Articles, For Libraries | Comments Off on Ask-WA(tch): Stats, Kudos and Comments for Sept 2009

Ask-WA Statistics – September, 2009

September Survey Comments WordcloudAsk-WA maintained a busy service during the month of September, and chat picked up slightly over August as schools came back into session. In numbers:

  • Email questions received: 3707
  • Chat sessions requested: 3457
  • Chat sessions accepted: 2993
  • Qwidget requests (% of total): 848 (24.5%)

As a cooperative we maintained an answering percentage of 86.6% for the month, which is a good 2% over last month, and remains well over the goal rate of 75%. Keep up the good work! The email aspect of the service remains robust, and continues to outpace chat ever-so-slightly. Qwidget traffic remains around 1/4th of the total chat traffic.

The word cloud highlights some of the most-used words left in survey comments throughout September.

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