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Get Answers From U of U’s Real Time Librarians

January 23, 2003 — Need an instant librarian? Ask questions and get answers, in real time, from the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library’s and the Utah Academic Library Consortium’s (UALC) LIVE CHAT reference service.

LIVE CHAT is a statewide online reference service, developed out of a cooperative agreement between the academic libraries within the state of Utah and supported with funds from the state-sponsored UALC. This service enables patrons to submit questions from on or off campus and receive assistance from qualified librarians from institutions of higher education around the state of Utah.

For college students, the benefit is obvious. “In today’s technologically advanced academic environment, LIVE CHAT provides students with a flexible, hands-on approach to research,” says Marriott Library Director Sarah Michalak, “Our goal is to offer our reference librarians’ skills to students, wherever they are and whenever they need them. They can communicate with librarians from their dorm rooms or lap top computers, or even while working in remote carrels in the library.”

What does this mean for the general public? According to Leslie Haas, head of reference at the Marriott Library, the library receives approximately 300,000 reference queries from the general public each year. “Many people don’t realize that state academic libraries are free and open to the public. However, citizens across the state of Utah call and come to the library for everything from tax forms, to special collections, to demographic materials published by the U.S. Census Bureau and other government agencies.”

Much of the material of interest to researchers and the general public can now be accessed online, either through databases purchased by libraries or via the Internet. “The LIVE CHAT program will allow our librarians to assist patrons through real-time, interactive online sessions, just as though the person were standing right in front of the reference desk,” explains Haas. “We can walk patrons through their search strategies, send materials to patrons via the Internet and answer general reference questions related to collections and library services.”

Librarians from the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library are available to answer online questions from 12 noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. All major Utah colleges and universities participate in the program between 5 and 8 p.m. Clicking on the LIVE CHAT or ASK A QUESTION icon on a library’s homepage will put patrons in immediate contact with a reference librarian from one of the libraries in the UALC.

“LIVE CHAT is a wonderful example of how, when we collaborate and pool our resources, we can create great products for students throughout Utah,” comments Michalak. Depending on the program’s popularity, the Marriott Library may opt to participate in a larger consortium which hosts LIVE CHAT 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Participating institutions are Brigham Young University, College of Eastern Utah, Dixie State College, Salt Lake Community College, Snow College, Southern Utah University, University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley State College, Weber State University and Westminster College.

Questions that need to be answered outside of LIVE CHAT hours may be answered through a call to a reference desk, face-to-face consultation with a professional librarian or by e-mailing the Marriott Library’s Reference Department. (Responses will be sent 24-48 hours after the query is made.)