Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 2004

ASERL Launches "Ask A Librarian:" First-Ever Region-Wide Service for Research Library Users

The Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) in January inaugurated the first-ever virtual reference service cooperatively staffed by research libraries across a region. Staffed by reference personnel at ten ASERL member libraries, the service is available twelve hours a day, seven days a week. “We’re thrilled to launch this cooperative system. It can provide more chat reference service for research library patrons than any one ASERL library could realistically provide on its own,” commented Sarah Watstein, co-chair of the project’s development team and Assistant University Librarian for Public Service at Virginia Commonwealth University. “We hope it will inspire more such systems in the future.”

The service, called simply “Ask A Librarian,” is available by linking through the Web site of any participating library. Visitors can also access the system via www.ask-a-librarian.org. During its first few months of service, Ask A Librarian will provide varying service hours to determine user demand and preferences. Users need no special equipment or software to access the service—just a current web browser and reasonably fast Internet connection. Once connected to the service, users can chat real time with expert reference staff at ASERL libraries.

“The goal of the service reflects ASERL libraries’ mission—to teach users how to locate the information they seek,” commented Watstein. “This is not a homework-helper type of service, but rather a way for university students and faculty to interact with their colleagues at peer research libraries.”

The program will be pilot-tested for a year before further enhancements are made. ASERL looks forward to partnering with research libraries in other parts of the world in order to expand cooperative service coverage to twenty-four hours a day

ASERL libraries participating in the launch are: College of William and Mary (Va.), Florida State University, University of Alabama, University of Central Florida, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville (Ky.), University of Miami (Fla.), University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Wake Forest University (N.C.).

Founded in 1956, ASERL is the largest regional academic library cooperative in the country, with thrity-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, visit www.aserl.org.