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QuestionPoint: Reference in a Digital World

Transcript of video presentation by Diane Kresh

Hi. I'm Diane Kresh, Director for Public Service Collections at the Library of Congress, and co-developer of QuestionPoint, the successor to the Collaborative Digital Reference Service created by the Library of Congress in the year 2000, and now being co-developed with the help of OCLC.

Libraries are changing. There's been an exponential growth of resources; the Internet alone has accounted for a lot of that growth. There are new researchers with new needs and expectations. Libraries have the opportunity to build new services and go where the users are.

But while the tools have changed, the work has not. The basic nature of librarianship has not changed. New technology enables librarians to enhance information delivery. Librarians can use their traditional strengths to build new programs; to leverage that experience worldwide throughout the library community; and to redefine the role of libraries in the digital age.

QuestionPoint provides professional reference service to users anytime, anywhere, through a collaborative, Web-based network of libraries. The most important word in that definition is collaborative. QuestionPoint could not have been developed without the support and expertise of participant libraries who piloted the Collaborative Digital Reference Service.

Any library can be a member: national libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, consortia, and special libraries.

It's useful to know some QuestionPoint terminology. The Users are the librarians, working on behalf of patrons. The Member Profile Database contains information such as: subject strengths, language strengths, and hours of service--up to 28 fields of data that's used to route the question. The Request Manager is the software that actually routes the question, based on information in the question, to the library best suited to answer the question. The Knowledge Base is the archive of questions and answers. And finally, the Terms and Conditions describe what each library agrees to do for QuestionPoint.

How does QuestionPoint work?

I'm Abbie Grotke, Digital Project Coordinator at the Library of Congress. For this demonstration, I'm going to show you how patrons submit their questions. Then I'll show you how a librarian responds to a question or connects with other librarians around the globe to help answer questions, using tools provided by QuestionPoint.

The patron sends a question by visiting their local library's Web site. Once there, the patron asks a question using a Web form. Ask-a-librarian forms are designed to capture enough information about the patron and the question they are asking (including how they can be contacted, their education level, and their reason for research) to enable the librarians to respond most effectively.

Once a question is submitted, it goes into the librarian's queue of new questions.

The librarian browses this list to retrieve a question to work on. Using QuestionPoint, the librarian can choose to do any number of things with the question: assign it to another librarian, respond by answering or asking for clarification if needed, refer it to another librarian within their institution or group, or route it to another library participating in the QuestionPoint Global Reference Network. From this screen, a record can also be added to the knowledge base (which I'll explain in a moment), closed, or deleted.

After consulting traditional and online resources, the librarian sends a response. The patron is sent an alert email letting her know that the answer is available. Each patron has their own online account where questions and answers can be viewed.

Let's say that the librarian instead chooses to forward this question to a colleague.

For example, at the Library of Congress, all of the different reading rooms form a group within QuestionPoint. This allows the librarian to select the most appropriate location to forward the question.

In this next example, the librarian chooses to route the question to the Global Network. The network is all of the members that answer questions for other QuestionPoint libraries.

Unlike the manual routing process that we just saw, in global routing QuestionPoint automatically sends the question to the appropriate library within the network. In order to find the best match, QuestionPoint compares data elements that help describe the question with the library profile database.

These elements include: the subject of the question, the turn-around time the patron needs, and the patron's education level. As you can see, QuestionPoint can route a patron's question to any number of librarians, either locally or globally, to find an appropriate answer.

After the patron has received the answer, the question, answer, and any other information that has been gathered are stored in a knowledge base--an archive of question and answer sets. Personal information about the patron is removed from the record and all records are edited for clarity and to enhance searchability.

Reporting tools are also available for library administrators in QuestionPoint. They provide ways to compile statistics about reference services.

QuestionPoint extends traditional reference services in a library. It provides 24x7 coverage. It provides access to collections held in libraries throughout the world. It provides access to subject and language specialists worldwide. It's Web-based: no software, no downloads.

QuestionPoint has an Advisory Board and the Library of Congress participates in activities to promote national and international standards.

So what's next for QuestionPoint?

We'll work on interoperability among networks. We'll achieve automated routing at the local level. And soon, members of the public will have direct access to QuestionPoint.

There are a number of global expansion issues. Language, literacy, and regional context. Accessibility and infrastructure: every country is different and has different needs. There are cultural and political sensitivities. Digital divide issues. Intellectual property and service constraints. And trade agreements that inhibit the free flow of information.

Libraries are changing, and QuestionPoint is part of that change. For more information about QuestionPoint and future developments, please visit our Web site.

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 The Library of Congress >> Especially for Researchers >> Virtual Programs and Services  
  August 1, 2006
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