Volume 25, Number 3, 2003

ASERL Launches Shared Chat Reference Service Linking Users to Staff at 10 ASERL Libraries

by: John Burger, SOLINET

On July 1st, the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) officially launched the first phase of a unique cooperative virtual reference service, the first of its kind in the country. When the system goes live in January 2004, it will be the first chat Web-based reference service supported by research library staff across a region of the country.

“This is an exciting time for ASERL, and one of our most ambitious projects ever,” commented John Ulmschneider, University Librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University and chair of ASERL’s virtual reference team. “It builds on a successful history of pioneering ASERL projects, from the founding of SOLINET to the innovative Kudzu interlibrary loan network. We’re thrilled to have ASERL undertake this ground-breaking initiative. I'm thrilled ASERL is an innovator in this emerging field of library practice.”

Participating libraries include College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA), Florida State University (Tallahassee), University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa), University of Central Florida (Orlando), University of Kentucky (Lexington), University of Louisville (KY), University of Memphis (TN), University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond), and Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC).

“We are fortunate to have such a great group of research libraries collaborating in this innovative effort,” commented Derrie Perez, ASERL Board President and Interim Dean of Libraries at the University of South Florida. “These ASERL member participants bring a broad array of expertise and experience, offering a wonderful opportunity for our students, faculty, and scholars to interact with great libraries across the region.”

ASERL’s cooperative virtual reference system will allow ASERL library patrons to use chat software to get reference help from research library experts, seven days a week, twelve hours a day, with service hours added if there is demand. "We examined the usage levels of existing 24/7 online services - which are low - and decided to start with 12/7 initially," commented Ulmschneider. "We can always add hours to the service in the future if there's a demand for it."

ASERL's cooperative virtual reference system will use OCLC’s QuestionPoint software, selected after a study of ten similar packages. “We’re pleased ASERL has selected QuestionPoint to be the backbone of their new service. We look forward to working with ASERL to get the project launched and showcase the capabilities of QuestionPoint,” commented Frank Hermes, OCLC’s Vice President for Cooperative Discovery Services.

Founded in 1956, ASERL is the largest regional academic library cooperative in the country, with thirty-seven research libraries and six state libraries. ASERL played a key role in founding the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET) and established SOLINET’s database licensing program. In recent years, ASERL launched a shared catalog system, published competency guidelines for research librarians, and provided delivery services for interlibrary loan materials. For information about ASERL’s ongoing programs, please visit www.aserl.org.

OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) is a nonprofit computer library service and research organization dedicated to furthering access to the world's information and reducing information costs to more than 43,000 libraries in eighty-six countries and territories. OCLC member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain the world's largest and richest database of bibliographic information. OCLC also publishes the widely used Dewey Decimal Classification system. Founded in 1967, OCLC conducts ongoing research to develop technologies to support its mission. More information about OCLC and OCLC regional service partners is available on the Web at www.oclc.org.

For more information, contact John Burger.