Rutgers University Libraries
Virtual Reference Services
Virtual Reference Services Coordinator
Rutgers Virtual Reference Services
Ask a Librarian Queries Received
Ask a Librarian LIVE 'Chat' Attempts
Ask a Librarian Answers Sent
Ask a Librarian LIVE Successful 'Chats'
LIVE Queries Answered via Email
Ask a Librarian
12239 queries were received via Ask a Librarian, the Rutgers email reference service, in FY2003/2004, down approximately 8.5 percent from the previous year. This is the first volume decrease recorded since the service began in the Fall of 1998. Part of the decrease can no doubt be attributed to enhanced services such as the new Interlibrary Loan interface which allows users to query the system about request status and renew and cancel ILLs without staff intervention.
Ask a Librarian
A record 2039 queries were received by Ask a Librarian in September 2003. Of these 1565 (78 percent) were PIN requests
In February and March, training sessions for use of AskAL, the new email reference management software, were held on all campuses. AskAL is a PHP/MySQL open source database originally developed by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and extensively modified and enhanced by Shaun Ellis of Rutgers Libraries’ Systems to meet the needs of the Rutgers Ask a Librarian service. Many of the enhancements were the result of suggestions put forth by AAL team members at the training sessions.
Among the features of the new system are:
- The automatic separation of ‘Regular’ and ‘PIN/Registration’ requests.
- Separate files for “Open,” “Claimed,” and “Completed” requests.
- The ability to look at requests by date submitted.
- The ability to quickly scan open requests and identify those for which a specific team member is responsible.
- The ability to simultaneously ‘claim’ multiple requests.
- The easy use of standard replies.
- The automatic deletion from the database of PIN/Registration requests, which include Social Security numbers, as soon as the request is completed.
- The ability to automatically generate certain reports.
Ask a Librarian began use of AskAL in April of 2004. The transition to AskAL meant instant relief from email overload, as all Ask a Librarian questions and answers would no longer automatically be sent to all AAL team member mailboxes. Team members do have the option to scan the questions and answers in the database, but clearly some of the ‘instant communication and learning’ advantages of the previous system have been lost.
Among its many other advantages however, AskAL makes tracking requests virtually effortless. As a result, all queries sent between April and June received a response—a 100 percent response rate as opposed to the 85.9 percent rate for this same period last year.
The Ask a Librarian request form [http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/ask_a_lib/ask_a_lib_form.shtml] states that "A response will usually be sent within 24-48 hours, except on weekends and holidays."
When response times were calculated manually, adjustments could be made for requests received over the weekend and during times when the libraries may have been closed. AskAL is not currently set up to adjust for this policy, although may be modified to do so in the future. Despite this, statistics for the April-June period show that 65 percent of all requests are answered within 24 hours and that 81 percent of all requests receive a response within 48 hours.
within 24 hrs
within 48 hrs
Ask a Librarian Users
AskAL allows us to track more precisely just who is using the Rutgers Ask a Librarian service. Whereas in the past we have estimated that about 10 percent of all queries are submitted by users with no affiliation with Rutgers, according to AskAL only 6 percent of all those using Ask a Librarian services between April and June were non-affiliates. Rutgers undergraduates were the biggest users (40.2%) of the service; interestingly, during this period only 21 users (0.9%) identified themselves as RU-Online students.
User Affiliation April-June, 2004
% of Total Users
RU Graduate Student
RU Non US-based Student/Faculty
Total Rutgers Primary Users
RU Community/Guest Borrower
Total Rutgers Non-Primary Users
No Current Affiliation with RU
Ask a Librarian LIVE!
This was the first full year of operation for the Rutgers Ask a Librarian LIVE chat reference serve. At Rutgers, Ask a Librarian LIVE is offered as a supplementary reference service, providing assistance to users during hours (7 pm to 10 pm) when many Reference Desks are closed.
Fall Semester: September 7th to December 22d
Spring Semester: January 25th to May 9th 
Schedule: Sunday thru Thursday, 7 pm-10 pm
Total Number of ‘Chat’ Attempts: 717
Total Number of Successful ‘Chats’: 516 (72%)
Live Requests Responded to via Email 21
Of the ‘Unsuccessful’ chat attempts, 96 (13%) were users who disconnected from the queue before their calls could be answered, while 73 (10%) were calls that disconnected when the operator tried to answer. Since a transcript which includes an email address and the initial question is usually created for a user who is subsequently disconnected, in some cases the librarian was able to respond to the disconnected user via email.
Reference ‘Chats’ per Month
Reference ‘Chats’ per Day of the Week
236 users (approximately 46% of all users who connected successfully) completed the Exit Survey. Of these 236, 216 (92%) identified themselves as Rutgers affiliates while 18 (8%) identified themselves as “Other.”
Exit Survey Question 1:
What is your status?
Rutgers Undergraduate Student: 127
Rutgers Graduate Student: 73
Rutgers Faculty: 11
Rutgers Staff: 5
Exit Survey Question 2:
The computer that you are currently using is located in:
A Rutgers University library: 45
A Rutgers University computer lab: 19
A Rutgers University residence hall/apartment: 23
A Rutgers University office/lab: 7
Another Rutgers University campus site: 5
Home or other off-campus site: 133
Exit Survey Question 3:
Have you previously used:
The Rutgers Ask a Librarian LIVE service: 48
The Rutgers Ask a Librarian email reference service: 37
Exit Survey Question 4:
Would you use the Ask a Librarian LIVE service again?
Not sure: 7
Exit Survey Question 5:
If the Rutgers Libraries were to continue to offer Ask a Librarian LIVE, during which of the following time slots would you be most likely to use the service (pick TWO):
7 am to 10 am Monday thru Friday: 17
10 am to 1 pm Monday thru Friday: 11
1 pm to 4 pm Monday thru Friday: 21
4 pm to 7 pm Monday thru Friday: 40
7 pm to 10 pm Sunday thru Thursday: 170
9 pm to midnight Sunday thru Thursday 120
In the Spring of 2004, the Rutgers Ask a Librarian LIVE service was staffed by ten Reference Librarians, eight of whom are also members of the Ask a Librarian email Reference team.
Four librarians who had previously served on AALL opted not to return, most because of professional or personal time constraints. This placed an additional strain on the remaining librarians who now had to devote at least one evening every other week—in some cases ‘on their own time’—to Ask a Librarian LIVE. Greater participation is needed especially in light of the expected increased demand for virtual services resulting from the upcoming Rt. 18 construction project in New Brunswick.