Chat Reference

When we have some full-time permanent reference librarians here at Osgoode (soon) I’m going to be seriously looking into
online/chat reference, perhaps in cooperation with other libraries around the world so as to offer a 24/7 service. I have concerns though about how we would limit such a service to our own Osgoode or York University community and those of other partner institutions. Obviously we don’t want to be flooded with queries from all and sundry at the expense of our primary clientele. Do other Slawyers have experience with this kind of thing? I’d be very interested to hear. As Simon Fodden has noted Toronto is going WiFi so the potential for ‘live’ service is only going to increase. Perhaps even on the subway – which this morning’s paper says is getting much closer to York!


  1. Nick, I think that the University of Alberta and UNB tried chat reference. I seem to recall somewhere that it wasn’t a big success, but you should probably check with them or search the literature on this.

  2. Hi Nick, greetings from Montreal! McGill also launched the chat reference early in February. Currently, McGill does not intend to prioritize the questions according to users’identifies.
    I agree that it is important for the librarians to recognize who are the questioners behind the screen, as we need not only to prioritize the questions received, but also to choose the appropriate resources to answer the question in concern (subscribed databases or open access materials?) I can think of two possible ways for users to identify themselves. For the first one, we can encourage students and faculties to claim their identities by logging in with their university IDs when posting questions. Although this helps librarians to make a better decision of how to answer a particular question, in some cases, users may feel uncomfortable to be precisely identified considering their privacies. An alternative to this may be to add a drop down menu in the question submit form for users to choose the best term to describe themselves: such as York students, faculty members, other university students, faculties, or public members. Since no login is required, the question remains how reliable such self-identification could be?
    Another issue for the 24/7 service is that users may need to be aware of who is providing the service at a certain time, i.e. what is the specialty of the service provider. Being aware of this, they would not expect in-depth answers about searching Canadian cases from a librarian sitting in a European law library. In fact, the current existing chat references are mainly used for factual reference questions rather than research ones; at least this is the case at McGill. There will definitely be more challenges to provide research reference services through online chat.

  3. Thanks for the feedback Sharon – its useful to know what others who have gone before us are doing.

  4. Nick, as for the issue of identifying questioners…I’d want questioners to log in and be identified. York students should get priority and logging in would be the way to do it. If it inhibits the “shy,” tant pis.