July 10, 2002 Library of Congress Launches "Live Chat" Reference Service

Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

The Library of Congress' Public Service Collections Directorate has launched a "live chat" reference service.

Librarians in selected Library of Congress reading rooms will be monitoring chat from 2 to 3 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. Access to this service will be provided from the Library's online reference service called, "Ask a librarian...," at www.loc.gov/rr/askalib which allows users to send questions and receive answers by e-mail.

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 adds a new, real-time dimension to e-mailing. A sophisticated cousin of instant messaging, live chat enables Library of Congress patrons to discuss their information needs with reference librarians through 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 of Congress' service will initially involve reference staff from the following reading rooms: Serial and Government Publications, Prints and Photographs, Local History and Genealogy, Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Technology, and Business. The number of reading rooms in the service may expand in the future, as well as hours of availability. Questions will also be taken regarding the Library's American Memory online historical collections.

Diane Kresh, Director of Public Service Collections at the Library of Congress, describes the chat reference service as "a new facet of the increasing access we can provide to our collections and expertise through the use of new technologies. Someone can be sitting at a desk in Boise, Idaho, and contact a Library of Congress reference librarian online in real-time, with a question about our online WPA Poster collection, or the Library of Congress' catalog. This new service moves us a step closer to becoming a library without walls."

QuestionPoint is an international online reference service, developed out of a cooperative agreement between the Library of Congress and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) of Dublin, Ohio, with input from reference librarians throughout the profession. It provides libraries with access to a growing collaborative network of reference librarians in the U.S. and around the world. QuestionPoint software enables the patrons of subscribing libraries to submit questions at any time of the day or night through their library's Web site. The questions will be answered online by qualified library staff from the patron's own library, or they may be forwarded to another participating library. The service, which is available to libraries by subscription, is free for library patrons.

The Library of Congress, with more than 124 million items, is the largest library in the world. Its collections are in all formats on which information is recorded--books, manuscripts, films, audiotape, maps, prints, photographs, musical scores and digital disk. Its Web site, www.loc.gov, is one of the most popular in the federal government, and handled more than 1 billion "hits" last year.

The Public Service Collections Directorate is one of the Library's largest organizational entities, comprising more than 700 staff who provide service in 15 of the Library's 21 reading rooms. They maintain and preserve the Library's 113 million-plus general and special collections, and process and catalog most special-format materials.


PR 02-094
ISSN 0731-3527