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University News

Pilot Program Allows Real-Time Chat With Librarian Via the Internet
by Gail Matsunaga


From Dateline February 27, 2003

Rosemary McGill
In an ongoing effort to provide a variety of reference services, the Pollak Library is currently testing Convey, a chat reference software program, overseen by Rosemary McGill, reference coordinator. The program allows students and faculty and staff members real-time guidance
related to library information from their home computers.

There's nothing worse than working from home and not being able to access a particular database or find a certain book through the Pollak Library's resources. Thanks to Convey, a chat reference software program, students and faculty and staff members can access real-time guidance or answers to questions related to library information via the Internet.

From 2-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, visitors to the Pollak Library's Web page (http://library.fullerton.edu/) can click on the “Ask a Librarian” link, then “Live Help” and be connected to a university librarian who can walk users through their searches - even temporarily “taking control,”with permission, of their computers to show the process.

Convey is one of two programs - the other is 24/7 Reference - currently in the pilot stage at various CSU campuses. San Diego State University also is testing Convey, while Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Bakersfield, Cal State Long Beach and San Jose State are testing 24/7. Both programs will be evaluated by the end of the semester, when it will be determined whether to institute either of the programs systemwide.

The program also is on the computers in the library's electronic resources area, in the Titan Lab and at the El Toro campus. Additionally, students and faculty and staff members on computers with audio capabilities can talk to librarians through their computers during these sessions.

So, what are students asking? “They're trying to get into a database, often the same kinds of questions we receive in person,” replies Rosemary McGill, reference coordinator and member of the CSU-wide task force that is evaluating the programs.

And at the end of the session - those that are text chat - the program produces a transcript for the user, which could come in handy as reference for a future database search.

According to McGill, Convey is such a new product that no library in California had it until now.

The 24/7 program, on the other hand, has been in existence longer and is in more libraries. Starting in the greater Los Angeles area, 24/7 has grown throughout California public libraries and colleges, and now includes several out-of-state libraries. Its biggest advantage is that users can “talk” to a librarian 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, it is limited to text chat only.

Ideally, if the state-of-the-art Convey is adopted system- wide, students will have access to library assistance around the clock. And, says McGill, with 23 campuses, there's the possibility of forming a consortium to staff it. A Fullerton student working from home, for example, may get online assistance from a librarian at Humboldt State.

o far, says McGill, students seem to like the service, and the librarians involved enjoy this newest way to help users navigate their way around the library's resources.

“Calls have increased this semester already and, hopefully, as more students need help, they will give us a try. We try to provide as many types of reference - telephone, e-mail, etc. - vas students will use.”


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