Virtual Reference for Texas Libraries
by Liz Barksdale, Western Texas College Library
Ask Now Texas is a free virtual reference cooperative for libraries in the state. Based out of Western Texas College in Snyder, Texas, since 2007, the project’s mission is to provide reference services to libraries that do not always have adequate staff, funds, or time to provide extended virtual reference on their own. Currently, ten libraries in various regions of Texas are served:
Abilene Christian University
Paris Junior College
Ingleside Public Library
South Texas College
North Central Texas College
Texas State Technical College West Texas
Northeast Texas Community College
Western Texas College
Although most participants are currently academic libraries, this service is open to interested public, school, or special libraries within the state.
Ask Now Texas is offered from 9am-11pm Monday through Thursday, 9am-5pm Fridays, and 1pm-11pm Sundays and will possibly be expanded further in the future to extend reference services for participating libraries. Reference volunteers assist users with informational questions, research, TexShare database guidance, online catalogs, and reader’s advisory. Volunteers can also refer online patrons with institution-specific questions back to the appropriate librarians or personnel at those users’ libraries.
The program also allows current and future Texas librarians to learn more about instant message-based virtual reference and about virtual reference best practices. The service is staffed by professional librarians and library school students from the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Woman’s University, and the University of North Texas. All volunteers are dedicated to providing high quality service to Texas users.
Ask Now Texas uses Meebo, a popular instant messaging service, because it does not require users to download any additional software in order to chat. Participating libraries have the option of using Meebo chat boxes personalized for their libraries. If you are interested in volunteering or to have your library participate in this cooperative in 2010, please contact Liz Barksdale at 325-574-7676 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Meebo, visit this site: http://www.meebo.com/meebome.