A project designed to strengthen library virtual reference services by Shu Schiller, associate professor and chair of Wright State University’s Department of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management, has received one of the first grants from OhioLINK, the Ohio Library and Information Network.
Established in 1992, OhioLINK is Ohio’s statewide academic library consortium and serves more than 600,000 users. The OhioLINK research awards, which follow a competitive application and review process, support projects to answer questions or investigate topics of direct interest to OhioLINK and its members.
The results of Schiller’s research, “Ask a Librarian” Live Chat Service: A Mixed Methods Research on the Service Styles of Professional Librarians and Student Workers, can serve as a model for the improvement, development and planning of library live-chat services or similar digital reference services.
“I am extremely excited and thankful for the OhioLINK research award,” said Schiller. “The grant will enable us to develop a training plan to develop student workers and optimize resource allocations for virtual reference services. We are confident that our findings will also help the other 119 OhioLINK consortium members improve their reference services offered in digital channels.”
In 2016 alone, librarians responded to 3,200 chat reference questions. And chat questions have increased by 37 percent since a new pop-up chat widget launched inside the databases in April. The most common questions are whether the libraries have a specific book, journal or article; whether the librarians can help the inquirer find books or articles on a specific topic; and where the full text of a specific article can be found.
Wright State’s University Libraries have offered chat reference service for 12 years as part of the Ask a Librarian research service. The service provides access to librarian research assistance via chat, phone, email or appointments. The chat service is open to any student, faculty, staff, alumni or community member.
Sue Polanka, associate university librarian, said student assistants are crucial in providing the service.
“They are trained extensively and do a wonderful job,” Polanka said. “We couldn’t offer evening and weekend service without them. We hope Dr. Schiller’s research can provide us with the data we need to enhance our chat training for students and staff, with the end goal of improving our excellent research assistance to the Wright State community.”
The Student Technology Assistance Center recently launched the Ask a Geek service for multimedia questions, a similar chat-based service.
A member of the Ohio Technology Consortium of the Ohio Department of Higher Education, OhioLINK provides a competitive advantage for Ohio’s higher education community by cooperatively and cost-effectively acquiring, providing access to and preserving an expanding array of print and digital resources and by centrally hosting digital content.
Together, OhioLINK and its member libraries provide users access to nearly 50 million books and other library materials, more than 100 electronic research databases, more than 81,000 e-books, thousands of images and videos and millions of electronic journal articles.