Storing answers for the future

Collaborative Digital Reference Service Web site

Soon, before reference librarians submit a question to the Collaborative Digital Reference Service, they will have a potential timesaver at their fingertips: a tool that will tell them whether the question has already been asked and answered.

The Online Computer Library Center Inc., Dublin, Ohio, is developing a knowledge base of CDRS question-and-answer pairs searchable by text or by other parameters, such as subject, geographic location, language and resource format. Librarians will submit question-and-answer pairs to the knowledge base, and over time, related pairs will be linked, said Chip Nilges, OCLC director of new product planning for reference and fulfillment services.

A check of the knowledge base will join in-house and Internet searches as a routine step before using CDRS, said Diane Kresh, Library of Congress director of public service collections.

"It will be the front end for the question process," Kresh said. "I think it's potentially a really good desk reference tool."

The knowledge base should be in operation this month, as soon as data interchange issues with the LOC-based CDRS are worked out, Nilges said. About 1,500 pairs are stored now. OCLC and LOC demonstrated a prototype last month at the American Library Association's conference in San Francisco.

A volunteer editorial board will review submitted question-and-answer pairs to edit them, catalog them, ensure that the questioners' identities remain anonymous and make sure copyright laws aren't violated, Nilges said.

The knowledge base, as well as CDRS itself, will eventually be open to the general public, Kresh said.

The knowledge base "allows us to keep what we've spent time learning," Kresh said. "The bigger it gets, the more useful as an upfront resource it becomes. I think over time it will be extremely important."

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