October 11, 2001 Library of Congress Launches 'Live Chat' Reference Pilot

Pilot to Run Through November 12

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Diane Kresh, dkre@loc.gov

The Library of Congress has launched today a "live chat" reference pilot project with the participation of 24/7 Reference (now www.questionpoint.org), a Los Angeles-based organization that has developed a customized set of software tools that allow library patrons to communicate in real- time with professional librarians over the Internet. Chat reference service, or "live" reference, is emerging as a revolutionary tool at reference desks across the country. The Library of Congress's project involves reference staff from four of its divisions: Serial and Government Publications, Prints and Photographs, American Memory, and Local History and Genealogy. The pilot is scheduled to run through Nov.12.

Diane Kresh, Director of Public Service Programs at the Library of Congress, describes the pilot as "an opportunity for the Library of Congress to take on a leadership role in implementing some of the new digital tools available to reference librarians. You can be sitting in a library in Santa Monica, Calif., and reference staff at the Library of Congress can draw on their institution's unique collections, both virtual and nonvirtual, to answer your question. That's a very powerful service to be able to offer your patrons. This is the virtual library, the library- without-walls that people talk about, and we have the opportunity to make it happen."

24/7 Reference software supports "collaborative browsing," which allows a librarian to "push" Web pages (with permission) to a patron's desktop and walk the patron through the various steps involved in finding answers to reference questions, through the Internet at-large, a library's own online catalog, or other selected information sources. Library of Congress reference staff will be live online for a total of 20 hours a week for the duration of the project. They will answer reference questions posed by their peers in the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System (MCLS), a consortium of 32 Los Angeles-area libraries. The MCLS librarians will submit reference questions to the appropriate Library of Congress reading rooms and relay the answers provided by Library of Congress librarians to their local patrons.

Susan McGlamery, 24/7 Reference Project Director, who trained Library of Congress staff on how to use the chat software, said, "One of the objectives of the 24/7 Reference project is to promote a national network of online reference services throughout America's libraries."

The Library of Congress has been exploring new ways of serving the public by enhancing its traditional library services with new electronic tools. In addition to experimenting with live chat reference, the Library has also taken the lead in developing an international digital reference network -- the Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS) (www.loc.gov/cdrs). CDRS provides professional reference service and access to global resources for researchers anytime, anywhere, through an international, digital network of libraries and related institutions.


PR 01-149
ISSN 0731-3527