Welcome to our FAQ for interested libraries. The information is intended to help interested libraries understand how askON functions and to answer some of your key questions surrounding:
- library commitment
- technical requirements
- support resources and training tools
- service quality
1) What is the technology that supports the askON service and what impact might it have on our IT resources or networks?
2) What technical support resources are available for askON libraries?
3) Do visitors to the askON service have to use/have high-speed access?
1) What training, skills or competencies are required for askON staff?
2) What training is available to askON staff?
3) What resources are available to askON staff after the training period?
4) What is the time line for incorporating new libraries including training, implementation and launch?
1) When does askON add libraries?
2) What are askON hours of operation?
3) How can library staff from other libraries provide effective service to my students?
4) How is the service managed?
5) How is scheduling handled?
6) What happens to questions when askON is closed?
7) What if I have an existing virtual reference service?
1) What does it cost for my library to participate? Top
askON college libraries pay an annual fee, based on their FTE, to support service administration, software licensing, marketing, training, and ongoing service enhancements. Other costs to the library are related to “contribution in kind”, such as providing staff for the askON service schedule as well as local coordination, marketing, training and tech support. Annual fees are available from the askON coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2) How many hours would my library need to contribute to the askON schedule? Top
askON does not have a strict formula for calculating the number of hours that a library should contribute. Rather there are general guidelines to help negotiate a manageable contribution. Generally speaking, larger libraries contribute more staff hours than smaller libraries. Currently askON’s schedule provides 62 hours of service per week with about two staff on shift per hour.
3) Are there other staff or cost obligations for libraries? Top
askON asks that each participating library identify a Site Coordinator. This person becomes the primary contact for matters related to askON. The Site Coordinator is responsible for:
- ensuring trained staff are on duty to fulfill the library's scheduled hours
- maintaining the library's profile and guest account information
- acting as primary contact with the askON administration for marketing, training and operational purposes
- maintaining the askON links and information on the library's website
- attending train-the-trainer and Site Coordinator sessions or designating appropriate staff to attend
- coordinating local training and marketing initiatives
- coordinating local technical support as required
- representing the library at meetings, in email discussions, and task force teams
Current Site Coordinators report that they spend an average of 1-2 hours per week on general askON business (once the service has been implemented and staff have been trained).
1) What is the technology that supports the askON service and what impact might it have on our IT resources or networks? Top
askON licenses its chat software which is a web-based solution. The servers managing askON are located in Canada. The library must place the “click-to-chat” html widget code into their website code. Students do not have to download anything to use the service. Each person trained to staff askON is assigned a personal login and password that they use when they start their askON shift.
2) What technical support resources are available for askON libraries? Top
Library workstations in use by askON staff should be enabled to access the web in order that askON staff can use the askON chat software and staff portal.
3) Do visitors to the askON service have to use/have high-speed access? Top
Visitors who have dial-up access can still use askON because most of the data being transferred is simple text. Service aspects of askON such as the ability to receive links, be transferred and complete exit surveys are unaffected by a visitor using dial-up. Chat interactions will appear faster with high-speed but it is not a requirement.
1) What training, skills or competencies are required for askON staff? Top
askON staff is drawn from the general reference and information service staff of participating college libraries. The individual institutions that participate in the service define staff competencies. askON competencies are those expected of staff currently providing reference services at their library. Individuals possessing the following skills often derive professional satisfaction and are well suited to virtual reference work:
- Customer service excellence;
- Commitment to continuous learning and motivation to improve skills and abilities;
- Multi-tasking and managing multiple windows; effective use of keyboard and short cut commands;
- Technical trouble shooting and the ability to explain technical problems and facilitate diagnosis and solution;
- Ability to effectively search and demonstrate the use of library databases and the internet;
- Online communication skills and etiquette for email, chat, etc.;
- Keyboarding proficiency
It is up to the participating library to determine how many and which staff will be trained to work on askON. It is strongly recommended that enough staff be trained to cover vacations, illness and other planned and unplanned scheduling..
2) What training is available to askON staff? Top
Training is an important component of askON implementation. There are 4 main components to the askON training program:
- LibraryH3lp platform training
- Building virtual reference skills
- Navigating and using askON’s staff support tools (library profiles, staff resources, backchat).
- Using guest accounts and accessing the services and information of other libraries
We use a combination of delivery methods to train staff to be competent and comfortable delivering virtual reference using askON. Currently our program includes:
- Virtual Training
Typically, new staff are trained in a 3.5 hour virtual session. Alternatively, each new participating library may request a visit from one of the askON project team. Here we give an overview of the how the service functions, introduce the software and support tools and answer questions
Site Coordinators and/or trainers attend a virtual training session. These individuals use the tools and resources provided to train local staff. Site Coordinators are also enrolled in a virtual training course to learn the basics of report generation. They are responsible for signing a Privacy and Confidentiality Agreement that protects the anonymity of askON users in any reporting or documentation generated.
- Access to the training site
askON staff and local trainers have access to a fully functional, cloned training site that mirrors the live askON site. Here staff and trainers can practice using the software.
3) What resources are available to askON staff after the training period? Top
askON staff have access to our support tools through the LibraryH3lp platform. Through LibraryH3lp, askON staff have access to backchat for communicating with other online staff, information about participating libraries and links to their websites, access to reference tools (including databases, guides etc.), askON guidelines and policies, training and marketing materials and newsletters.
New staff are encouraged to thoroughly explore staff resources within LibraryH3lp as part of their training process.
4) What is the time line for incorporating new libraries including training, implementation and launch? Top We add library partners as resources for implementation and training are available. We will work with your implementation and strategy timeline.
1) When does askON add libraries? Top
We will work with your library to work with your implementation strategy and timeline.
2) What are askON hours of operation? Top
Regular hours of operation are Mon-Thurs. 11:00am-10:00pm; Fri-Sun 11:00am-5:00pm. Summer hours scale back and go into effect mid-late April in consultation with the library partners. The service closes in mid-August.
3) How can library staff from other libraries provide effective service to my students? Top
askON has dedicated considerable resources to creating supportive tools (askON staff tools and backchat) that allow askON staff to efficiently serve students from other libraries. Each participating library maintains a portal profile page with information and links to library resources and services. A section of LibraryH3lp is dedicated specifically to information on guest accounts. Using guest accounts, askON staff have full access to the electronic resources of other participating libraries and use them to help students learn about and access these resources
4) How is the service managed? Top
At the day-to-day level askON is managed collaboratively by the askON administrative team and the Site Coordinators who represent the libraries. The libraries are responsible for providing the staff and local coordination and the askON administrative team provides the tools, resources, support and advice that keep the collaborative moving together. At the strategic level the askON Steering Committee, made of partner Library Directors, guides the service and ensures it is meeting its goals and objectives.
5) How is scheduling handled? Top
The service is currently available 62 hours a week. We would like to try and expand the service hours as we add more libraries. Using the total number of hours the participating libraries can contribute, the assumption that we require 2-3 askON staff available each hour, and the participating library’s open hours the askON team and operational advisory group will create a draft schedule. This draft is used as a basis for consultation with the Site Coordinators, both individually and as a group. Negotiations continue until a satisfactory schedule that ideally accommodates everyone’s needs is completed. Typical askON schedules run from Sept.-Dec; and Jan.-April. The summer schedule runs from April-August. askON's academic service closes in mid-August.
6)What happens to questions when askON is closed? Top
When askON is closed students who click on a chat button will be redirected to their library's contact page. Visitors may choose to contact the library directly with their question or to reach out to askON once service resumes. Service delivery standards revert to the library’s existing policies for managing email reference requests. Text mesasges sent to askON during off-hours will be answered when service resumes.
7) What if I have an existing virtual reference service? Top
You do not have to close or discontinue your existing service. However it is preferable that you consider doing so to avoid confusing students. Libraries who had existing VR services have replaced them with askON.
1) What reports or statistics are available to tell us how the service is doing and how we
are contributing? Top
The chat software makes a significant number of reports available. Reports are available that can indicate:
- Volume of questions by originating library
- Volume of questions responded to by a particular library
- Visitor evaluation (exit survey) results by staff / by library
- Visitor traffic by type of visitor
In addition, the full transcripts of all chat interactions are available for review and analysis. All site coordinators have access to the reporting module. View sample reports.
2) How is askON evaluating service quality? Top
Following askON's initial implementation (Jan-March 2008) the project team commissioned a large scale, objective review of the service using a random sampling of the transcripts of chats that occurred in the first thirteen weeks of the service. A qualified, experience virtual reference librarian evaluated anonymized transcripts against the RUSA guidelines for managing digital reference services (http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines) and looked specifically at the quality of our interviews, interactions and responses. Annual third-party evaluations since 2008 are available upon request.
1) What are the benefits to my library? Why should we participate? Top
- a lot for a little: 62 hour service schedule in return for 2-10 hours of staffing contribution
- professional development for staff, who develop proficiency in virtual reference and information literacy
- best practices of reference service delivery for high visitor satisfaction, verified in independent annual evaluations
- improving the profile of the library in your college community
- engaging online communities and new generations as library users in a convenient way;
- ease of use with transferable technology & online support tools for staff
- skilled support from student operators for hard-to-staff hours
All personal data gathered during an askON chat transaction is encrypted using a Triple DES algorithm prior to transmittal and storage. The Triple DES algorithm is a well-accepted encryption method used by leading companies, including financial institutions. Chat transaction data from askON is stored on a server in Canada.
Only the askON project team, one Site Coordinator from each participating library, and the askON service evaluation task force has administrative access to the collected data.