RUL Virtual Reference Services


2007-2008 Report


Summary Statistics

Ask a Librarian (email) Queries


Meebo (chat) Reference Questions





Ask a Librarian


In FY 2007/2008, 10,475 queries were received via Ask a Librarian, the Rutgers email reference service.  This is about a 1.0 percent increase over the number received in FY 2006/2007.  This is a minimal, but rather surprising increase—it was anticipated that the launch of the Meebo chat reference service in the Spring would have a negative impact on the use of the email service.


 Ask a Librarian FY 2007/2008


General Queries

PIN Requests


Queries Received




Answers Sent





Ask a Librarian Users


As usual, Rutgers undergraduates were the most frequent users of the Ask a Librarian service, accounting for 47.5 percent of the queries received during this period.


            Rutgers Undergraduate Students             4975 queries    47.5 percent of total

            Rutgers Graduate Students                      2923 queries    27.9 percent of total

            Rutgers Faculty/Staff[2]                             1351 queries    12.9 percent of total

            Other Rutgers Students/Faculty[3]                111 queries      1.0 percent of total


Rutgers Alumni submitted 436 queries (4.2 percent of total). Only 5.6 percent of the users submitting queries to Ask a Librarian during this year had no affiliation with Rutgers.


Response Rate


As recorded in the AskAL database, 97.6 percent of the queries submitted received a response.




Response Times


Median response time for requests received improved somewhat for general queries and increased for PIN requests:



General Queries/Median Response Time

PIN Requests/Median Response Time

FY 2007/2008

10.8 hours

22.1 hours

FY 2006/2007

12.6 hours

18.8 hours

FY 2005/2006

17.3 hours

20.8 hours


The Ask a Librarian request form [] states that "A response will usually be sent within 24-48 hours, except on weekends and holidays."


When we exclude queries received over the weekend we see a significant difference in response times:


AAL Queries Received and Answered on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday


General Queries/Median Response Time

PIN Requests/Median Response Time

FY 2007/2008

4.5 hours

14.2 hours

FY 2006/2007

5.1 hours

14.0 hours

FY 2005/2006

7.6 hours

15.2 hours


The Ask a Librarian Team


During the 2007/2008 fiscal year, 18 librarians answered queries as part of the AAL Reference Team, and 29 access staff responded as part of the AAL Access Team. In addition, staff from Interlibrary Loan, Media, Document Delivery, and Systems monitored and responded to queries in their areas.  Dave Kuzma from Special Collections responded to many queries forwarded to him from Ask a Librarian, as did others.


Meebo Chat Reference


In the Spring of 2007 Public Services Council asked the Virtual Reference Task Force to look at options and make recommendations concerning the expansion of RUL virtual reference services to once again include chat reference.


As a result of the Task Force recommendations, in the Spring of 2008 the libraries began offering a chat reference service for 15 hours per week—Sundays through Thursdays 7 pm to 10 pm—using Meebo anonymous Instant Messaging.  The pilot proved enormously successful—Despite the fact that there was no announcement or publicity, in the first 60 hours that the service was available librarians answered 568 questions!


As a result, after Spring Break the service was expanded to include 3:00 to5:00 pm, Mondays thru Thursdays.  In the Summer of 2008 the service was available from Noon to 1 pm, and 3:00 to 5:00 pm, Mondays thru Thursdays.


Meebo Chat Reference 2008


Spring 2008

Summer 2008[4]











Meebo Reference Team


During the 2007/2008 fiscal year, 21 Rutgers librarians and one SCILS student participated in the provision of Meebo reference services.  During the Spring semester librarians would frequently find themselves dealing with four or five users simultaneously. The single-session record for the year belongs to Jeris Cassel, who on Sunday, May 4th (the day before the last day of classes) answered 48 questions between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m.


Impact on Other Reference Services


It was anticipated that even with limited hours the chat reference service would significantly impact the use of the Ask a Librarian email reference service.  Surprisingly, at least during this first year that has not been the case.  In fact, during the period that the Meebo service was available, the number of non-PIN queries submitted to Ask a Librarian rose 10.9 percent (Spring) and 13.5 percent (Summer).


Any number of variables—from new library services or procedures to the particular courses being offered in a specific semester—can affect reference statistics within a specific time frame. However it is tempting to speculate that some users are discovering Rutgers Reference services as a result of either using, or becoming aware of, the Meebo Reference service and are seeking out Ask a Librarian when Meebo is not available.




Natalie Borisovets

RUL Virtual Reference Services Coordinator

July 24, 2008

[1] Includes answers sent by Special Collections and other individuals to whom questions were referred.

[2] Includes Faculty Emeriti.

[3] Those identifying themselves as “RU Non U.S.-based Students/Faculty” and “RU-Online Students.”

[4] Includes fiscal ’08 portion only (May 27-June 30, 2008).