Click on the rubric steps below to expand/collapse each section.
1. A cheerful, welcoming tone
- Patrons should be picked up as quickly as possible. If more than one patron is waiting, pick up the patron that has been waiting the longest.2
- When you greet the patron, send a personal greeting, identifying yourself and your willingness to help.2
- Obtain or verify the patron's email address as soon as possible, if the need for follow-up is a possibility.2
- If on the 24/7 queue, be sure to indicate in the initial greeting that you are ready to help, as the patron may be confused when greeted by a non-local librarian. Identify the name of the library or group you are affiliated with, in order to set expectations with the patron.2
- Examples (all from 3):
- (Librarian's screen name is 'Rob from [State] College') : "Hi, I'm Rob, and I'll be helping you today. I'm reading your question now..."
- After saying Hi, [patron name]: "My name is John, and I am a librarian in [State]. I am helping your librarians answer chat questions. Let me read what you wrote to see how I can help you..."
- "Hi, [patron name], I'm Nancy, a librarian at the University of Washington, and I'm happy to help!"
- Consider combining your greeting with the initial reference interview question.
- Patron Jane asks about locating a book. Librarian combines the greeting with a reference interview question: "Hi Jane, my name is Erin. Are you looking for a particular title?"
A note about multiple patrons:
Answerland encourages librarians to pick up one patron at a time. Only pick up the second patron if you are comfortable and proficient at handling more than one patron, such that the service you provide to either patron will not be impeded by picking up the second patron.2
- Some examples of possible times to pick up a second patron:
- The second patron is one of your own local patrons.
- You are almost at the end of the session with the first patron and can handle a second patron.
- The first patron is reviewing information you have sent and does not need your immediate attention.2
- If you decide to pick up a second patron:
- Acknowledge all patrons that you pick up as soon as possible by sending a greeting. Thank them for waiting, if applicable.2 Let them know that you are helping multiple patrons, that they may have to wait a short while for assistance, and that they have the option to ask for follow up or return to chat later.
- After sending a greeting, begin a reference conversation with the second patron (clarify the request, ask about previous searches, etc.). Ask as many reference interview questions of the second patron as necessary. This will give you time to finish up the first session, and the second patron will remain involved. The additional information will also help you refine your search and will provide necessary information to any librarians doing follow-up (if follow-up is needed).2
- Do not give a time estimate of how long it will be before you will be able to work on the question, unless the patron asks. If it seems likely that you will not be able to get to the second patron's question for more than a few minutes, try to transfer the session to another librarian.2
- If you are handling two simultaneous sessions, be sure to double-check that you are sending the messages and URLs to the appropriate patron.2
2. A good reference interview (asking clarifying questions)
- Use the library’s FAQs to find information. Often information found in the FAQs page is not freely available on that particular library’s website (including database and catalog access).
- Point patrons to their library’s resources first.2
- Utilize scripts from the patron’s library, not your own.
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage the patron to expand on the request, e.g.:2
- "Please tell me more about your topic."
- "What additional information can you give me?"
- "How much information do you need?"
- "What kind of information on ___ are you looking for?"
- "Would you tell me more about ___?"
- "Is there something specific about ___ that you would like to know?"
- "What would you like to know about __?"
- "Can you give me an example?"
- Use questions to refine the search query, e.g.:2
- "What type of information do you need (books, articles, etc.)?"
- "Do you need current or historical information?"
- "Is this for a school assignment? If so, can you tell me the grade level?"
- Find out where they have already searched.
- Add value to the information either through analysis, description, keywords, pathways, or rewording.2
- Clarify any confusing terminology and avoid excessive jargon.2
- Verify the search request BEFORE doing any searching. Rephrase the question and ask the patron to confirm that that is what they are looking for.2
3. Use of authoritative resources
Sources of Information
- Use resources available from the patron's library whenever appropriate
- When searching for general information about a topic, library resources (such as guides produced by the library or proprietary databases from the library) are the preferred first places to look when assisting patrons. This information can be located on the library's FAQs. Make sure to consult the Patron Info section of the Chat Monitor to determine how the patron accessed the service and which library they belong to.2
- Proprietary Databases
- Use the databases at the patron's library to answer a question, if possible. You can access these by looking at a library’s FAQs.2
- Print Sources
- If there is no online resource to answer the question but the answer can be found in a print source, then either refer the patron to a book located in the patron's library if you know the answer can be found in this print source, or treat the request as a Follow-up.2
Quality of Resources
- If sending resources from the general Internet, send specific resources, not links to results from general search engines (e.g., Google results). In some cases, it may be appropriate to send search results from a database or from a specialized search tool as part of the reference conversation (i.e., "Does anything on the results list look useful?").2
- Always cite the source of the information pushed to the patron if the source is not readily apparent on the online database or Web page. If you have specialized knowledge about the topic and answer the question based on your expertise, then specifically cite yourself as the source.2
- If you are unable to locate an authoritative answer to a question in a timely fashion, then handle the question as a Followup (see Section 5).2
- Choose resources at the appropriate level for the patron's research. In general, databases are preferable to Google or other general web sources when assisting students with research projects.3
Provide professional-level search assistance
- Provide context and instruction to the patron, rather than just sharing resources or merely sending web pages. Explain what sources you're consulting and what terms you're using for a database query. Provide enough guidance so that the patron can recreate the search if needed (include the name of links, which one the patron should click on, as well as the "click path"). Merely providing links to resources often will not suffice – some URLs are dynamic, such as library catalog search results, and the links that appear in session transcripts may become dead links.3
- Identify sources appropriate to the patron's need.2
- When offering information that may answer the question, request feedback from the patron (i.e., Is this information helpful to you?). Work with the patron to narrow or broaden the search when too little or too much is found.2
- Help the patron evaluate the sources for relevance to their topic.
- Recommend appropriate search terms and subject headings.3
- Patron: Need help finding books on the history of black businessmen in New York City.
- Librarian: You should search the catalog with keywords like black, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, New York, african americans, history
- Patron: Need help finding books on the history of black businessmen in New York City.
- Librarian: You can search the catalog by typing in things like this (exactly as I have them)...
- Librarian: african americans and business* and new york
- Librarian: or using that last one, replace business* with the word entrepreneur*
4. Good general communication skills
- Give the patron positive feedback and show interest in their question or problem.1 Use a receptive, cordial, and encouraging manner.
- Be aware of chat abbreviations and lingo that is used by many patrons.1 It helps to mirror the formality/informality of the patron.
- Chat frequently, so the patron doesn't have long lags without chat from the librarian.
- Break up long responses into a few blocks--this avoids long pauses and the patron can begin reading your response while you are completing it. On the other hand, try not to break your chat into too many discrete units, as this may be confusing or frustrating to the patron. A good rule of thumb is to send one or two sentences at a time.2
- "First, go to the library homepage, http://library.uncg.edu/..."
- "Then select “Databases” near the center of the page..."
- "Then select Academic Search Premier..."1
- Let the user know what you are doing (i.e., give them the play by play) if you need to perform a time consuming task.1
- "Sorry, still searching..."
- "I’m going to walk over and ask at Circulation."
- "Would you mind waiting a minute?"
- "I’m going to try finding this in a different database, just a second please..."1
- Be patient with slow replies on the patron’s end. There are many reasons why this may be happening (slow connection, poor typing skills, multitasking, etc.).1
- Type like you talk, in a conversational manner. Clarify confusing terminology and avoid library jargon.2
- Use spelling, grammar and capitalization appropriately.2
- NEVER USE ALL CAPS! It translates to shouting.1
- Use positive phrasing ("We can…" instead of "We don't/can't/won't…").3
- Use emoticons when appropriate to convey friendliness.1
- Use the client's name and ask them questions when appropriate.5
- Avoid yes/no responses. Yes/no's can be interpreted as cold and unfriendly, just as in face-to-face reference.2
5. Offering more help
- Before closing the session, ask the patron if the question has been answered ("Does this completely answer your question?"), if additional information is needed, or if the patron needs help with anything else. If the transaction cannot be completed live, use the follow-up procedures and assign the "Follow Up by Patron's Library" resolution code.3
- Before coding Follow Up, verify the patron’s email address and deadline. It may take several days for the patron to get an answer back from the library.3
- If you are unable to answer the patron’s question, check to see if a librarian from the patron’s library is online and IM/transfer the session. Otherwise, verify the patron’s contact information for follow-up by their library.7
- Suggest the patron visit or call the library when appropriate.2
- If you are referring or asking another library to follow up, try and provide them with as much information as you can about the patron’s problem or question.
6. Gracefully concluding the chat transaction
- End the session only after a natural closure to the conversation. Thank the patron for using the service and encourage the patron to return. Always send a goodbye message, even if the patron has already disconnected.2
- Don’t use Tags if the patron is not an Answerland patron. The Cooperative's policy is that Tags are assigned only to sessions or transactions with one's own patrons.2
If you are still helping a patron and it is the end of your shift:
- If at all possible, stay online with the patron long enough to finish the session.2
- Offer follow-up to the patron. Suggested message: "This is taking longer than I expected. May I send this on for additional research and someone will get back to you via email?"2
- Ask any of your colleagues who are arriving for the next shift if they can accept a transfer. Be sure and send an IM to the new librarian first, before transferring. Be sure and tell the patron you are transferring the session to another librarian.2
- If none of the above work, and you will have to leave soon due to your shift ending, send a message such as: "Also, just to let you know I will have to end the session in a few minutes but don't worry -- we have some options! I can try to transfer you to another online librarian now ... I can have someone get back to you via email ... Or if you think you have enough for now but might need assistance later, you can come back when you need more help. Which would you like to do?"2