The recent impact of the internet on reference services
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The Recent Impact of the Internet on Reference Services. Michael Sauers Presentation to the Missouri Library Network Corporation 16 July 2001. Four Recent Developments. AskA… Services E-mail-based Reference Chat-based Reference The Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS).

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The Recent Impact of the Internet on Reference Services

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The Recent Impact of the Internet on Reference Services

Michael SauersPresentation to the Missouri Library Network Corporation16 July 2001

Four Recent Developments

  • AskA… Services

  • E-mail-based Reference

  • Chat-based Reference

  • The Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS)

AskA… Services

  • Non-library based

  • Usually staffed by volunteer subject experts

  • Most accept questions, decide which to answer, and then post those answers. Not everyone gets a response.

AskA… Services Examples

  • Ask

  • Ask Dr.


  • VRD: AskA+

  • Expert registers and picks categories

  • User picks an expert and posts a question

  • Expert receives an e-mail with the question and a link to the page with the answer options.

  • Expert decides whether or not they can answer the question.

  • Expert responds with the answer.

  • User receives an e-mail telling them their answer (or other response) is available.

  • User may leave feedback for the expert.


AskA… Services

  • Benefits

    • Questions answered by subject experts

    • Anonymous from the user perspective

  • Disadvantages

    • No clear definition of who is an expert

    • Time lag up to several days

    • Little ability for reference interview

E-mail-based Reference

  • Patron sends an e-mail with a question to the reference department of the library.

  • Dedicated staff member or team monitors the account’s inbox for new questions.

  • Librarian finds the answer and sends an e-mail back to the patron.

E-mail-based Reference Examples

  • Humboldt State University (CA)

  • Fairfax County Public Library (VA)

  • New York State

  • Directory of E-Mail Reference

E-mail-based Reference

  • Benefits

    • Patron does not need to come into the library.

    • Librarians can take more time to answer a question since the user is not “on hold.”

  • Disadvantages

    • Turn around time is usually around 24-hours unless there is a dedicated librarian.

    • Asynchronous communication not conducive to the reference Interview.

Chat-based Reference

  • Live

  • Patron accesses the library’s chat service with their Web browser

  • Librarian greets the patron and patron asks their question

  • Reference interview performed as needed

Chat-based Reference

  • Patron is put on “virtual hold”

  • Librarian finds the answer and types it back to the patron

  • Patron disconnects from the chat system

Chat-based Reference Examples

  • KnowItNow (Cleveland Public Library)

  • 24/7

  • Live

  • University of PA Biomedical

Chat-based Reference

  • Benefits

    • Just-in-time online reference

  • Disadvantages

    • Patron may need additional technology to access (plug-in)

    • Connection speed an issue

    • Current software lacks archiving and searching functions

The Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS)

  • Sponsored by OCLC and LOC

  • Library to library reference service



  • Library registers for the service and fills out a profile

    • Contact information

    • Subject areas

    • Times available

  • Asking library posts a question to the system



  • Benefits

    • International

    • Public libraries share their knowledge (local) with academic libraries (research)

    • Every question sent through the system to date has been successfully answered


  • Disadvantages

    • Usually a minimum of a 24-hour turn around time

    • Archive (KnowledgeBase) not yet available

    • Not yet open to the general public

Effects of these Services

  • AskA services are popular with the public but are not viewed as serious competition to the library world.

  • So far, most libraries have reported that the library-to-patron services have had a minimal impact.

  • CDRS is still in the early stages but participants have had significant success.


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