Archive for January, 2014

Ethical Dilemmas survey

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Something that came up on the DIGI_REF listserv that might be of interest to AskAwayers. Here’s a chance to contribute some data points to a study on ethics in reference work…

Dear colleagues,

I cordially invite you to complete a brief survey that seeks to study reference librarians’ experience with ethical dilemmas at work.

It will only take ten minutes of your time, and your input is highly appreciated. Results of the survey will be presented at the 2014 International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) satellite meeting organized by the Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE). Also, it will help educators gain insights on how to better teach ethics in courses about reference and information services.

The survey study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board at San Jose State University. The survey is completely anonymous.

By click the survey link below, you are consenting to participate in this study. Please contact me at if you have any questions regarding the survey.

Thank you!



Lili Luo
Associate Professor
School of Library and Information Science
San Jose State University, CA
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Mobile Options for AskAway Virtual Reference

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

With the expanding use of tablets and smart phones, increasing mobile options for patrons has become a priority for many post-secondary libraries. These mobile-friendly versions of online library services include simplified web design and page layouts optimized for viewing on mobile screens. Examples include simplified versions of home pages, search interfaces and chat-based reference services.

While AskAway services are already designed to provide online reference services, the ability to expand and promote AskAway on mobile devices increases both the reach of the service and convenience for the patron. BC’s post-secondary libraries are exploring how to provide mobile access to AskAway using a variety of methods. Here’s a quick overview of the mobile AskAway options that are currently available.

1. AskAway Qwidget embedded on a simplified webpage
Libraries are providing mobile AskAway services by embedding a Qwidget on a simplified, mobile-optimized webpage. At present, this works with the newest version of the Qwidget code, as well as the older version that was recently replaced.  An example of this can be found via SFU’s mobile library website, by clicking the “Reference and Research Help”, then “Ask A Librarian”. Other libraries that offer mobile AskAway via this method are: College of the Rockies, Langara College, and Vancouver Community College.

2. The AskAway fullscreen interface
The fullscreen AskAway interface is also being promoted and used as a mobile option, by linking to it from a mobile-optimized library webpage.  An example can be found at Kwantlen University’s mobile library website, by clicking “Contact Us”, then “Chat with a Librarian”.

3. A mobile-optimized AskAway interface
Libraries are also providing mobile AskAway services by using an interface specifically meant for mobile chat. An example of this can be found via Vancouver Island University’s mobile library website, by clicking the link for “AskAway Chat Research Help”.

4. A pop-out version of the AskAway Qwidget
Another way that libraries are providing mobile access via a pop-out version of the Qwidget that opens up to a standalone window of its own. An example of this can be found at Alexander College’s library website, by clicking the AskAway logo under “Ask A Question”.

If your institution is currently using one of these mobile AskAway techniques, or you are using other mobile methods, we’d love to hear from you about how it’s going. For a more detailed report on current mobile options for AskAway, download the full report here.


New Strategies for Problem Patrons

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Hello all,

In November and December we sent messages with advice on dealing with a persistent problem patron who identifies herself as Jini. Jini has reappeared on the service since we reopened for the Spring term, and has resumed her pattern of harassing behavior and repeated questions.

We appreciate that dealing with Jini has been adding to the stress and workload of staffing AskAway. We are working on the situation, and will be in touch with further strategies after an emergency meeting of the AskAway Advisory Committee. Meanwhile, we have developed a strategy and a series of scripts that we encourage you to use.

Please be consistent in your approach. Engaging with Jini has proved unproductive, and only encourages her. The following steps can be taken with any patron exhibiting these behavior patterns.

When you log in:

Scroll up through the Campfire messages to check whether Jini (or another problem patron) has already been asking questions.

The first time you pick up a call from a problem patron:

Record his/her question in Campfire and let others know s/he has appeared. If it is the first time and s/he is behaving reasonably, answer the question to the best of your ability. If s/he becomes incoherent, send the “Problem – Harassment Step 1” script.

If the patron has asked the same question already:

Use the script “Problem – Harassment Step 1″:

This question has already been answered today. There are other students waiting for our help. Please come back another day.

Then end the session.

If the patron has already logged in multiple times:

Use the script “Problem – Harassment Step 2″:

You have already asked several questions today, and there are other people waiting for our help. AskAway is a busy service, and we cannot spend so much time with one person. Please come back another day, and we will be happy to help you.

Then end the session.

If the patron continues to log in after the previous script was sent:

Use the script “Problem – Harassment Step 3 – Warning”:

We have answered your questions to the best of our ability, and cannot help you further. We have other patrons who need our help. If you continue to abuse the service, we will not allow you to use the service.

Then end the session.

It is important that everyone be consistent in this approach. Jini has a pattern of asking the same question repeatedly and will pursue it as far as she can.

We will be in touch again soon with further strategies after discussions with the Advisory Committee. Meanwhile, please follow the strategy outlined above and give our problem patrons as little reason as possible to continue their harassment.

Large Biology Assignment at UBC

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

A message from Katherine Miller at UBC:

Dear Colleagues,

Thanks in advance for your support of our biology students. We are starting to see BIOL 140 students at our in-person desks and we anticipate they will be visiting AskAway soon too!

The BIOL 140 assignment this term is on freshwater and terrestrial organisms. To start, students are looking for information about their organism, its habitat and factors that affect its growth, survival, reproduction, and behaviour. Their course page is here:

If a student is not finding very much information about their specific species such as Tribolium confusum, try a broader search for the genus Tribolium. Later they will be looking for the journal literature on their organism and an abiotic factor – best place to search is Zoological Record.

As part of their assignment, the BIOL 140 students first review an online tutorial which covers the basics of searching for books and articles. If you would like access to this tutorial, please see the instructions here.
There is the recording of our the online workshop showing resources and search strategies to support this assignment. It is available via their online tutorial (instructions to access tutorial).

Please let me know if you have any questions! Thanks!

Kind regards,