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Best Practices for 24/7 Reference Cooperative Sessions




Pick up the Patron

Patrons should be picked up as quickly as possible.  If more than 1 patron is waiting, pick up the patron that has been waiting the longest.


Greet the Patron

Send a personal greeting immediately after joining the session, identifying yourself and indicating your willingness to help.  The greeting is your first interaction with the patron, so be sure your greeting establishes a welcoming atmosphere.  Identifying yourself with a personal name and using the patron’s own name in your greeting are good ways to engage with the patron.  Be sure to indicate in the initial greeting that you are ready to help, as the patron may be confused when greeted by a non-local librarian.   Although a script can be used for your greeting, be sure it is short and friendly!




(Librarian's screen name is 'Rob from [State] College'): “Hi, I'm Rob, and I'll be helping you today. I'm reading your question now..."




After saying Hi, [patron name]: "My name is John, and I am a librarian in [State]. I am helping your librarians answer chat questions. Let me read what you wrote to see how I can help you..."




 "Hi, [patron name], I'm Nancy, a librarian at the University of Washington, and I'm happy to help!"




Consider combining your greeting with the initial reference interview question.  Example: Patron Jane asks about locating a book.  Librarian combines the greeting with a reference interview question: "Hi Jane, my name is Erin.  Are you looking for a particular title?"


By asking for more information about the patron's request, the librarian is showing a willingness to help.



Reference Conversation/Resource Selection

• Engage in an adequate reference conversation to understand the question and the patron's information need. Be sure to clarify the patron’s question before beginning the search.

• Choose resources at the appropriate level for the patron's research. In general, databases are preferable to Google or other general web sources when assisting students with research projects.

• Use the library policy page to find information using home library’s resources (including OPAC, databases, and guides).

• Evaluate resources for authority, objectivity, and currency; share with patron.

Provide a source citation (e.g. URL, book title, or 'information from library policy page').

• Answer questions accurately.




Provide professional-level search assistance

• Provide context and instruction to the patron, rather than just sharing resources or merely sending web pages. Provide enough guidance so that patron can recreate the search if needed (include the name of links, which one patron should click on, as well as the “click path”). Merely providing links to resources often will not suffice – some URLs are dynamic, such as library catalog search results, and the links that appear in session transcripts may become dead links.

• Recommend appropriate search terms and subject headings, in the context of a recommended search statement using Boolean operators. Provide examples of query constructions using basic and advanced Boolean operators.



Patron: Need help finding books on the history of black businessmen in New York City.

Librarian: You should search the catalog with keywords like black, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, New York, african americans, history



Patron: Need help finding books on the history of black businessmen in New York City.

Librarian: You can search the catalog by typing in things like this (exactly as I have them)...

Librarian: african americans and business* and new york

Librarian: or using that last one, replace business* with the word entrepreneur*


• Help patron evaluate the sources for relevancy to topic

• Ask for feedback on resources sent





Interpersonal skills

• Create a welcoming atmosphere

• Chat frequently, so the patron doesn't have long lags without chat from the librarian (no more than 3 minutes should elapse without the librarian sending a message to each patron who is in session, even if it is a simple “I’m still working on your question”, or even “Still searching…” )

• Show interest in the patron's question through chat tone and choice of words

• Use positive phrasing ("We can…" instead of "We don't/can't/won't…")

• Use scripts appropriately, as needed

• Paste small excerpts of information; avoid pasting long blocks of text in the chat.

• Send chats to correct patrons when serving multiple patrons.


Concluding the session

• Before closing, ask the patron if the question has been answered (“Does this completely answer your question?”) or if additional information is needed.

• If the request cannot be adequately answered during the session, code the session for Follow Up (see Resolution Codes, below)

• Before coding Follow Up, verify the patron’s email address and deadline. It may take several days for the patron to get an answer back from the library.

• If the patron indicates that no additional information is needed, send the appropriate Goodbye script provided by the patron’s library. If no Goodbye script is available, thank the patron for using the service (using generic phrasing) and encourage the patron to return.




Resolution Codes

It is important to use a resolution code to end the session. If no resolution code is selected, then the session is assigned the default code of Answered.


Use the codes as follows: 


  • Answered: no additional information is needed by patron.
  • Follow Up by Patron's Library: In most cases, use this code anytime followup is needed.
  • Follow Up by Me: Only use this code if you (the chatting librarian) have information at hand which will thoroughly answer the question. When you use this code, you are responsible for the followup. Be sure to send the followup response through QuestionPoint, or add a note that followup has been done. Normally, Cooperative librarians should use the Follow Up by Patron's Library resolution code when dealing with non-local patrons.  

  • Lost Call: Use only in the rare instance that the patron has not sent chat after the librarian joins the chat session AND has not provided an email address in the body of the chat or in the initial chat form.

                  Do not use Lost Call if the patron sent chat during the session.

               Do not use Lost Call if the patron left an email address. 


See the Resolution Code flowchart from Julie Strange, MD AskUsNow!: http://askusnow.info/staff/sites/default/files/ResolutionCodeFlow.pdf




For further detail, please consult 247-Policies


You might also be interested in the Best Practices advocated by the Australian 24/7 medical libraries cooperative Chasing the Sun and the VR Tips & Best Practices offered on the ALA-RUSA Virtual Reference Companion website.

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