The Library's Public Service Collections Directorate (PSCD) has launched a "live chat" reference service at its Web site.
Answering questions and assisting patrons with their research, librarians in selected Library reading rooms will engage in online dialogue with patrons between 2 and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Access to this service will be provided by the Library's online reference service, Ask a Librarian, at www.loc.gov/rr/askalib.
The service will be supported by the Library's new QuestionPoint software (see www.questionpoint.org for more details), which gives libraries access to a growing collaborative network of reference librarians in the United States and around the world and enables librarians and their patrons to communicate in new ways.
The live-chat feature is the next best thing to personal service in the Library, which may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from the researcher. A sophisticated cousin of instant messaging, live chat enables patrons to discuss their information needs directly with distant reference librarians by way of the Internet. These sessions might involve online resources that the patron is having difficulty using, or hard-to-find information that requires the expertise of one of the Library's reference specialists.
The Library's service will initially involve reference staff in the reading rooms of the following divisions: Serial and Government Publications; Prints and Photographs; Local History and Genealogy; Humanities and Social Sciences; and Science, Technology and Business. The number of reading rooms in the service may expand in the future, as well as hours of availability. Librarians also will field questions about the Library's American Memory online historical collections.
Diane Kresh, director for PSCD, describes the chat reference service as a new facet of the increasing access the Library can provide to its collections and expertise through the use of new technologies. Someone can be sitting at a computer with an Internet connection in Boise, Idaho, connect to the Library's Web site at the Ask a Librarian address, and type a question about the online WPA Poster collection, or the Library of Congress Public Access Catalog. A reference librarian sitting at a Library work station in Washington watches as the message appears on screen and then types an immediate response. This new service is a step closer to becoming a library without walls.
QuestionPoint is an international online reference service, developed as the result of a cooperative agreement between the Library and Online Computer Library Center of Dublin, Ohio, with input from reference librarians throughout the profession. It provides libraries with access to a growing worldwide collaborative network of reference librarians. QuestionPoint software enables a patron of any subscribing library to submit a question any time of the day or night to the library by way of its Web site. The responding library's staff member answers the question online or forwards the question to another participating library. This service, which is available to libraries by subscription, is free for library patrons.