Library encourages patrons to chat
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Aug 21, 2002
These days when patrons seek help from Montgomery County, Md., reference
librarians, they can do so without raising their voices.
Since March, the Rockville branch of the county's public library system
has been piloting an online service called "Ask a Librarian Live Reference"
in which librarians can engage in real-time "chats" with patrons over the
Montgomery library patrons simply click a link on the library site (www.mont.lib.md.us/askalibrarianlive.asp), supply a name, e-mail address,
question and ZIP code, then can "talk" with the librarian through instant
Such real-time service has been "around a while," but the public sector
has only started using it in the past year or so, especially among libraries,
said J.D. Kathuria, director of operations for Chantilly, Va.-based International
Business Systems Inc., which developed LiveAssistance, the chat software
used by Montgomery.
The service also may be a way for libraries to get back some lost service,
"Patrons today aren't coming to the library as much as they used to,"
he said. "They're doing all the research on the Internet and the librarians
are concerned for many factors. One, less people means less staff, less
budget, less job opportunities. And [librarians] want to go to where the
patrons are in terms of trying to get them back involved in libraries. And
live chat is a great way to do that."
Kathuria said the service might cost less than a traditional call center
model because a customer service representative can handle three or four
chats at a time. "So you could do more with less, still provide the typical
phone support, and potentially e-mail support," he said. "Live chat adds
another dimension for the commonly used questions by taxpayers or citizens
Convenience for patrons is another advantage. "If you're living in Rockville
and have one phone line, it's very inconvenient to disconnect off the Web
and call the library," he said. "It's much easier to engage in a real-time
chat and try to get an answer to a question there than have to call someone."
Kathuria said his company has about 25 library clients, including many
university libraries. He estimated that about 100 libraries across the country
offer this online chat service. Last fall, the Virginia state government
began offering a similar service through its portal.