A cooperative of Partner Libraries in the State of Maryland Maryland AskUsNow! Plan a cooperative of Partner Libraries in the State of Maryland




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Maryland AskUsNow! Plan
A Cooperative of Partner Libraries in the State of Maryland



Maryland AskUsNow! Plan
A Cooperative of Partner Libraries in the State of Maryland




Mission



AskUsNow! is a cooperative online project of Maryland libraries. This 24/7 live interactive service uses the expertise of librarians to provide residents of Maryland and students of Maryland educational institutions with answers to questions, research guidance, and help navigating the Internet.


Definition of Service: The provision of real-time information service to customers via web-based interactive software.


What the service provides to library customers



Increasing numbers of library customers are seeking their information in an online environment. They will be able to rely on the expertise of an expanded pool of trained library staff adept at performing information searches.

Library customers can expect:

  • Access to library service from anywhere at any time

  • Immediate responses to questions

  • Information service from librarians in public, academic, and other partner library systems

  • Service similar to that provided at the reference desk or on the telephone, including:

  • Answers to questions

  • Help navigating the Internet
  • Increased awareness of online information resources


  • Increased access to partner resources



What the service provides to partnering libraries



Libraries are seeking new ways to support customers wherever they are. An increasing percentage of the population is seeking their information online. AskUsNow! connects all libraries and librarians around the state in a way that has never been done before, creating a learning community and sharing of professional reference services. Through cooperation every partner library system can make cost effective use of available resources. Partner library systems will increase their visibility as information authorities. These Maryland libraries will build an infrastructure for the development of future statewide services.


All Maryland library systems, including public libraries, academic libraries, school libraries, and special libraries are invited to join this project as a service partner.


Software Selection



Software will be reviewed, evaluated, and selected by the AskUsNow! planning team. The following criteria will serve as the rationale for selecting the software to be provided by a reputable vendor:

  • Ease of use for customer

  • Ease of use for staff

  • Availability of 24/7 qualified service staffing from software vendor or other source of coverage

  • Availability of 24/7 technical support

  • Transcripts of all sessions available to staff and specific customer

  • Ability to provide customized statistics and documentation

  • Established training program

  • Commitment to growth and innovation, including the ability to push web pages, co-browsing, voice-over, and video conferencing

  • Compliance with privacy and accessibility requirements

  • Cost



Administration and Funding



The first year of the project begins January 2003. First year seed money will be fully funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, LSTA grant funds, through the Division of Library Development & Services, Maryland State Department of Education. Funding for the first year includes software, training, a full-time statewide project coordinator, and statewide marketing.


A grant will be given to the Baltimore County Public Library to administer the project, as a continuation and statewide expansion of their successful local online reference project with Harford County.


The project is administered by a full-time project coordinator responsible for writing, implementing, and evaluating the grant. The Project Coordinator will report to the Baltimore County Public Library and the staff liaison from the Division of Library Development and Services.


Each partner library system will provide a project liaison and staffing for the service during regular hours using existing equipment.


Future funding models will be examined during the first year of the project to determine best possible scenarios for the sharing of expenses.

Staffing



AskUsNow! coverage will be provided by partner library systems during regular operating hours (this will include 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 Saturdays). Off-hours, including late night and Sundays, will be covered as needed by the software vendor or another source of coverage. Partner library systems will be required to dedicate staff hours to AskUsNow! service.


AskUsNow! will begin with four librarians available to provide service simultaneously. Adjustments will be made to the schedule and load-level on each partner library system as the service progresses. It is estimated that each partner library system will provide service 5-15 hours a week. The number of hours for each partner library system will be determined by the number of participating partner library systems. Consequently, as more library systems participate fewer hours will be needed by each to contribute.


The project coordinator maintains the AskUsNow! statewide schedule. Local project liaisons at each partner library system will be responsible for scheduling staff hours. Local project liaisons will work with the project coordinator to schedule staff hours. Less desirable hours will be rotated among the partner library systems, but the scheduling process will be kept as simple as possible to avoid confusion.


The State Library Resource Center (at the Central Library of the Enoch Pratt Free Library) will provide at least one librarian in the evening until 11:00 p.m., 21 hours a week. AskUsNow! will begin with a core group of library systems, and others will join later at designated intervals to accommodate training.


Each partner library system’s project liaison will have the following responsibilities:


  1. Represents the organization at statewide AskUsNow meetings

  2. Reports to the project coordinator regarding training and scheduling

  3. Maintains scheduling and arranges for substitutes as necessary

  4. Collects appropriate statistics for project

  5. Monitors local performance data, including session transcripts and referrals

Training



Staff assigned to AskUsNow! must participate in an initial regional training session, ongoing practice exercises, and must attend two of eight regional meetings annually. To maintain their AskUsNow! skills, staff will be scheduled to provide coverage at least once every two weeks.


AskUsNow! staff must have or develop through project training the following competencies:


  1. Ability to conduct an effective reference transaction in online environments, including the creation and use of pre-scripted messages;

  2. Online communication skills and etiquette for chat, e-mail, and other online communication;

  3. Internet searching skills, in particular the ability to choose the best starting points for online searches;

  4. Ability to effectively search and demonstrate searching of library databases;

  5. Ability to assist online customers in applying critical thinking skills in locating, using, and evaluating information;

  6. Keyboarding proficiency;

  7. Multi-tasking and managing multiple windows; effective use of Windows keyboard commands and shortcuts;

  8. Basic AskUsNow! troubleshooting skills;

  9. Ability to effectively conduct a collaborative browsing session with an online library user;

  10. Evaluation of online reference transactions, and identification of improvement strategies;

  11. Ability to apply reference transaction policies in an online environment (e.g., scope of service, time limits, obscene callers, harassment);

  12. Commitment to continuous learning and motivation to improve skills in all areas of reference services



Who can use AskUsNow!?



AskUsNow! will be made available to residents of Maryland and students of Maryland educational institutions. The service will answer questions equally no matter what Maryland zip code the online user has entered.


Resources & Databases



A completed resource profile will be required of each partner library system as part of the AskUsNow! project. The profile identifies databases and unique local resources of partner library systems to answer questions and make referrals.


Partner library systems will also provide specific information about their policies, procedures, and resources in order to ease the sharing of information to AskUsNow! customers with questions about local library use.


Policy Development



Policy development is the responsibility of the local project liaisons and the project coordinator. Policies will be developed based on the best practices of other similar services. Examples of such policies include:

  • The answering and/or referring of questions including general, legal, medical, local, etc.

  • Access to local and statewide subscription databases

  • Privacy considerations

  • Classification of question types



Evaluation



The project coordinator will collect and analyze the following data regarding use:
1. Volume handled per partner library system
2. Volume according to location of online user, based on zip code
3. Types of questions asked without linking to user
4. Duration, times, and dates of all transactions
5. User satisfaction
6. Adequate staffing levels
7. Suggestions from online customers and trained staff


The project coordinator will have access to all transcripts of service. Each local project liaison will be provided access to all transcripts of service provided by their staff. All comments and concerns received by the project coordinator will be relayed to the appropriate local project liaison.


As required by all LSTA grants, Outcome Based Evaluation will be created to assess the project.


Marketing and Promotion



Marketing, branding, and promotion will be developed by a team of staff with marketing experience from the partner library systems and the project coordinator. Funding will be available in the grant for overall statewide marketing. Partner library systems will be responsible for incorporating promotion of AskUsNow! into local marketing campaigns.





How to participate in providing AskUsNow!



AskUsNow! partner library systems are expected to sign a first year “Letter of Intent” and submit it to the project coordinator by November 8, 2002. By participating in this project, they will:


  • Attend the first partner meeting in December 10, 2002

  • Provide coverage of assigned service hours

  • Appoint a project liaison

  • Identify staff to participate in project and necessary training

  • Use the same live reference software and meet the minimum equipment requirements

  • Add a standardized branded link to AskUsNow! on their library homepage



Once the Letters of Intent have been received, information will be sent regarding the December 10, 2002 meeting. This meeting of the project liaisons will address process and technical requirements for the project.


Contact information:

To participate in AskUsNow!, the signed Letter of Intent should be submitted to the project coordinator via mail or fax by November 8, 2002:


Joseph Thompson – AskUsNow! Project Coordinator

Information Services Department

Baltimore County Public Library


320 York Road

Towson, MD 21204



Questions may be submitted via e-mail, phone, or fax:

jthompso@bcpl.net

410-887-6124 (phone)

410-887-6103 (fax)


Planning Committee and Reviewers


Many thanks to the AskUsNow! Planning Committee and Reviewers for their valuable time and input into the creation of this plan.


Planning Committee:


Stacey Aldrich - Division of Library Development and Services, MSDE

Alan Bogage - Carroll Community College

Irmgarde Brown - Harford County Public Library

Suzanne Carbone - Montgomery County Public Libraries

Jim DeArmey - Baltimore County Public Library

Kathie Eichfeld - Calvert Library

Gail Griffith - Carroll County Public Library

John Krivak - Prince George's County Memorial Library System

Susan Pedersen - Eastern Shore Regional Library

Joe Thompson - Baltimore County Public Library/DLDS

Wesley Wilson - State Library Resource Center/EPFL


Reviewers:


Eileen Abels - College of Information Studies,

University of Maryland College Park

Brian Auger - Howard County Library

Della Curtis - Baltimore County Public Schools

Louise Greene - Anne Arundel Community College

Ruth Hodgson - Maryland State Law Library

Neal Kaske - Engineering and Physical Sciences Library,

University of Maryland, College Park

Betty Morganstern - Anne Arundel County Public Library

Teresa Neely - University of Maryland Baltimore County

Darlene Reimond - Western Maryland Public Libraries


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