Mitigating Microaggressions in Chat Reference

March 14th, 2018

QuestionPoint recently hosted a one-hour webinar on mitigating microaggressions in chat reference sessions.

  • To view the recording, click “View Webinar Recording” at the bottom of the event page and then click “Playback” (you may be asked to download the Cisco WebEx add-on).

The webinar was presented by Marie Radford (School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University) and Lynn Silipigni Connaway (OCLC). They share findings from their research on microaggressions in chat reference transcripts and share tips for library staff to avoid microaggressions when they’re chatting with patrons.

At AskAway, patrons often tell us that they felt heard and supported (rather than judged) during their chats. But, by continually reflecting on the assumptions that we bring to a session and how we communicate these in our chats, we strengthen communication with students and faculty and work with them to meet their information needs.

Defining and identifying microaggressions

The presenters define microaggressions as “intentional or non-intentional verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities towards marginalized groups.”

For their research, they reviewed 1000s of public and academic chat transcripts available via QuestionPoint between 2006 and 2016. They note that microaggressions can be difficult to identify as they tend to be subtle and personal.

Of the transcripts reviewed, they found that 97% of transcripts were free of microaggressions and that 3% included microaggressions.

Examples of microaggressions

The researchers identified microaggressions such as assuming a patron’s socioeconomic status or making heteronormative or ageist assumptions.

The researchers also identified the following types of microaggressions related to library research:

  • Assuming a patron’s search independence (e.g. their ability to use a search engine)
  • Calling out a patron (e.g. for making a mistake)
  • Assuming a patron’s technical literacy
  • Assuming a patron’s information need

How to mitigate microaggressions

The researchers shared tips for mitigating microaggressions in chat reference:

  • Avoid assuming a patron’s identity or ability
  • When unsure, respond with open, respectful questions rather than assumptive statements
  • Avoid library jargon and check-in to ask if they would like you to define any terms
  • Respect their time and check-in with them when doing a longer search (e.g. rather than saying “I have to do a prolonged search” you could ask “This is going to take me a few minutes to search. Is that ok?”)
  • Allow the patron time to reply and look for subtle queues that they may need more help

Questions or comments?

If you have any questions or comments to share about the webinar, feel free to contact the Admin Centre.

Refresher: Resolution and Descriptive Codes

November 22nd, 2017

At the end of a chat session, you have the opportunity to add Resolution and Descriptive codes to your chat. By adding these codes, you help us track technical issues with the service and give a clear picture of why patrons are coming to AskAway and the kind of help you are providing them.

Below, you’ll find a quick refresher on how to apply resolution and descriptive codes.

Adding a Resolution Code

Resolution codes allow us to track technical problems and to exclude practice calls from AskAway statistics.

Add only 1 of the following resolution codes:

Answered: For all sessions unless one of the other two codes apply. Even if you referred the student or did not fully answer the question, use this code.

Lost Call: If you think there was some technical reason why the patron disappeared abruptly or unexpectedly.

Practice: If you’re practicing or testing the service.

Please do not use any of the other resolution codes. If you referred a patron, use the Referred or Referred to Home Library descriptive codes.

How to add a resolution code.

Adding a resolution code


Adding Descriptive Codes

Descriptive codes help us understand how students use AskAway and what kind of help you are providing them. This information allows us to respond to learners’ needs at the service level. Thanks to descriptive codes, we know that approximately 40% of AskAway questions are related to research and 10% are questions about accessing eResources.

You can add up to 4 descriptive codes per session. For example, if you have a research question and during the chat you help the student with an interlibrary loan and at the end of the chat refer them to their liaison librarian, you would add the following codes: Research, Interlibrary Loan, Referred to Home Library.

The AskAway staff website has more information about descriptive codes, including definitions for each.

Adding descriptive codes.

Adding a descriptive code


Questions about resolution or descriptive codes? Feel free to contact me at the AskAway Admin Centre.

Answering Citation Questions with Marjory Jardine

November 20th, 2017

Did you know that between 15-20% of questions that come to AskAway are citation questions?

To learn more about answering citation questions, we interviewed Marjory Jardine, an AskAway service provider at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC), who has a knack for answering APA questions. Marjory shares what she enjoys about chat reference and citations, tips for tricky citation questions, and some of her favourite guides.

Hi Marjory. Can you introduce yourself?

Hi there. I work as a Reference and Instruction Librarian at JIBC. Prior to working at JIBC, I worked in special libraries (forest products, health care) and a part-time stint at SFU.

How long have you staffed AskAway and what do you enjoy about the work?

Believe it or not, I think I was one of the inaugural “chat reference” librarians when Ask Us Live was introduced as a shared service between SFU and UVIC in 2005. It was such a new concept at the time, it was fun to be involved! My background wasn’t strong on citations, so it was a great way to get thrown into it!

I enjoy AskAway for many reasons: the variety of questions, learning about other institutions and their resources and services, helping students from different places, the collegiality of all the AskAwayers – couldn’t find a nicer bunch of online colleagues!

I’ve heard that you look forward to citation questions. What do you enjoy about helping with citations on AskAway?

Yes, I admit it, although it is kind of weird to look forward to citation questions.

What do I like about them? If they are APA, I feel pretty comfortable as I know there are so many great guides out there. I like the many teachable moments that come with citation questions. Students are usually so thankful for the support – often, they are on the right track but just need a bit of help refining their citations. And, sometimes, they are way off-track, and it’s fun to see the lightbulb go on when we can steer them in the right direction.

I like that I often learn something new with each question. Seeing the types of questions that students have helps me help them (and our JIBC students) better in the future. If I start to see a trend for a type of citation, or one I’ve never come across, I’ll make a note to add that example to our APA Subject Guide.

Other styles are a bit tougher for me, as we only use APA at the JIBC. Luckily, we have print copies of MLA and Chicago I can refer to. I really rely on college/university guides for the non-APA questions!

How do you approach citation questions on AskAway?

I breathe a sigh of relief if it’s APA. If it’s a different style, I usually head to the shelf, grab the appropriate manual, then open the online guide from the student’s college/university.

I ask lots of clarifying questions such as “where did you find the resource (print, online, database)?” If the student can provide me with a direct link, I will look it up so that I know I am looking at the same thing.

I usually provide explanations if it’s something the student might question. For example, in APA, why is the date shown differently for books/journals vs newspapers/magazines? Or, why do you sometimes provide a retrieval date and other times not? I find that students actually like to know some of the background behind the guidelines.

Do you have any tips to share with service providers who are answering tricky citation questions?

Sometimes an exact example will not be available, so use your best judgment and combine several examples.

Remember that one main point of citation is to show your reader where you found the information. As long as that is covered, then you are well on your way.

This is my favorite quote from one of the APA Style Blog Experts, Paige Jackson, on September 24, 2009. Although Paige is referring to a specific question on when to use a homepage URL or a full document URL, I think the comment is valid in many situations:

Don’t belabor the issue – make an informed guess … and move on!

Never hurts to ask a colleague if they are sitting next to you or of course through Campfire.

Beyond your library’s citation guides, what are some of your favorite guides or websites that you would recommend to AskAwayers?

Thanks Marjory!

As always, if you have any questions or tips to share, contact the AskAway Admin Centre.

Logging out at the end of your shift

November 1st, 2017

“Hello, do you offer 24/7 live chat assistance?”

“Hello, sorry to interrupt in the middle of the night. I have some problems with my research paper.”

These questions came in to AskAway late one night after opening hours, with no one online to answer. It happens rarely, but every so often, an AskAwayer may forget to log out of QuestionPoint or have trouble logging out due to technical issues (e.g. computer freezes, power outage) and the service stays open through the night with no one to pick up calls.

How do I log out properly at the end of a shift?

AskAway closes once every service provider has left the queues and logged out. The short animation below will show you the steps to fully log out of the chat monitor at the end of your shift:

Steps to fully log out of AskAway


How can I tell if everyone is logged out and that AskAway has closed for the day?

There are a few places to look. The Librarians tab in the chat monitor will tell you how many people are logged in and how many queues they are monitoring. The Chat Monitoring Tool in QuestionPoint is another place you can find this information.

To see if AskAway has closed for the night, you can also check one of the Qwidgets on your library’s website to see if it is open or closed.

If I can’t log out at the end of my shift or I see that a colleague is still logged in after closing, who can I call for help?

If you notice that a colleague is still logged in after closing (and the service has stayed open) and they aren’t responding in Campfire, send them an IM in QuestionPoint. If you don’t hear from them, contact the Admin Centre.

If you’re unable to log out at the end of your shift due to technical difficulties, please contact us as soon as possible.

Can I wrap up calls with my patrons even after the service has closed?

Yes! It’s up to you if you want to wrap-up a call after your shift ends. If you’d like to wrap-up a call, deselect all of the queues you are monitoring. Your patron will still be Active and you can finish the call without any new calls coming in. When you’ve wrapped up the call, don’t forget to end the session and then log out of the chat monitor.

If you have any questions or any tips to add, let us know!

Quick tips to improve conversations with patrons

July 31st, 2017

QuestionPoint recently hosted a brief 30 minute webinar with quick tips to improve chat reference conversations. They also shared several follow-up questions and answers from the session.

In the webinar, a public and an academic librarian share general tips that can be applied to any chat reference question, from in-depth research to circulation.

Three tips that stood out were:

  1. Follow the chatter’s lead
  2. Think beyond the chat
  3. Give the patron’s question the benefit of the doubt

Follow the chatter’s lead
Erin Callahan from Hennepin County Library encourages you to follow the chatter’s lead. By doing so, you let them decide how much information you provide, how fast the chat and the search progress, and where to go next. Set realistic expectations and provide options, but let the learner guide the interaction as much as possible. As you’re working with a learner, you could ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they in a hurry? Or should you move slowly?
  • Do they want a little bit of help to get started or are they looking for a deep dive?
  • Are they done with their research or should they be referred for further help?

Think beyond the chat
This tip is all about setting the patron up for success. According to Callahan, chat reference is a conversation and each conversation provides an opportunity for the library to build a positive relationship with the patron. Although at AskAway, library staff don’t follow-up directly with patrons after a chat, we can still provide the patron with the information they need to continue their search or seek further help:

  • Point to other resources that the learner can check out later on their own time
  • Share search tips and suggestions as you go
  • If necessary, refer them and provide them with the information they need for a successful referral

As always, encourage the chatter to email themselves a transcript so that they can revisit the chat and draw on it during any follow-up.

Give the patron’s question the benefit of the doubt
Have you ever received a question that catches you off guard? It might sound like a question that’s not related to coursework or it might sound like a prank. Lisa Hartman from Frostburg State University has some interesting examples of these types of questions and encourages you to give the patron the benefit of the doubt.

When a learner comes in with an unexpected question, a reference interview can go a long way. If you don’t understand the question, it’s okay to say so and to ask for further information and clarification. Sometimes, you’ll need to draw a line and explain what services you can provide.

If the patron has a legitimate information need, they will be thankful that you took their question seriously and took the time to help. If their question is outside the scope of AskAway or the library, they will learn something about the library and its services.

Tips to share?

If you have any more tips to share or any comments, feel free to contact the Admin Centre!