General Questions

What is Ask a Librarian?

Ask a Librarian is a free online service that allows Florida residents to chat or text with a librarian for immediate assistance from 10am until midnight ET Sunday thru Thursday and from 10am until 5pm ET Friday and Saturday. A trained information professional can guide you to the answers you need in minutes rather than your wasting hours navigating hundreds of unhelpful and irrelevant web sites. More than 100 libraries statewide collaborate to provide this service to their patrons and the patrons of other participating libraries. In addition, you can also email your local library’s staff. Ask a Librarian is administered by the Tampa Bay Library Consortium. Ask a Librarian is funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Florida Department of State’s  Division of Library and Information Services. Ask a Librarian is a service of the Florida Electronic Library.

How does Ask a Librarian work?

When you click on the chat button, your question enters a queue for the on-duty librarians. Your local library’s staff may or may not be on the desk at that time, as our statewide librarians are located all across Florida. Librarians answer questions in the order they receive them. Typically,between two and five librarians staff the Ask a Librarian desk during the hours we are available for live chat. When the librarian accepts your question, you are able to chat one-on-one with that librarian while he or she helps you find what you need by guiding you through the myriad of resources available.To print your transcript or e-mail the session to yourself for later use, just click on “Print” on the chat screen. The transcript will provide links to all of the resources you visited during the session. You can also send your questions via text message during all business hours, and receive a helpful reply within minutes! If you are not sure of the texting phone number for your area, please click “text us” on this page and choose your library from the list. Privacy information is available hereClick here to view a demonstration of how Ask a Librarian works.

When are librarians available to answer my question?

We are available via live chat and text messaging from from 10am until midnight ET Sunday thru Thursday and from 10am until 5pm ET Friday and Saturday. As we are staffed by libraries all across the state, we are closed on most major holidays and for a brief period before New Years. E-mail assistance is available 24/7 and answered by your local library’s staff during their business hours.

Am I talking to a real person?

Yes! When you use Ask a Librarian, a real person is assisting you.

How many librarians are on duty?

We typically have two to five librarians monitoring questions during regular business hours.

How long will it take for someone to answer my question?

It should only take a few minutes, although your wait time could increase if we receive an unusually high number of questions. We answer questions in the order we receive them. Please be patient, and we will get to your question as soon as possible. The length of your conversation with the librarian will depend on the complexity of your question and how detailed of an answer you would like. An average chat session lasts 13-15 minutes.

What type of behavior is unacceptable?

Ask a Librarian has a policy of mutual respect. Our librarians will treat you with courtesy and respect, and we expect the same respect in return from you. There are several types of behavior that are unacceptable and may cause you to lose the privilege to ask questions again in the future. Deliberately wasting the librarian’s time or using language that is offensive, obscene, or harassing will not be tolerated. IP addresses are automatically pulled from the system you are utilizing and in cases of severe misuse, your IP address may be redirected from utilizing Ask a Librarian services. In case of threatening language directed towards harm or self-harm, this IP address may be reported to the proper authorities in order to ensure the safety of our users and staff.

Can the librarian on duty tell me if I have any overdue books or reset my account login for me?

Probably not. Because Ask a Librarian is a statewide service, you could be speaking with a librarian from any of our over 100 participating libraries. If the librarian is not from your local library, he or she will not have access to your personal library record.

Why should I use Ask a Librarian instead of a search engine like Google or Yahoo?

Librarians are experts at sorting through information and finding what you need from a credible source. With over 100 million sites on the Internet, searching on Google and Yahoo can return millions of Web sites filled with information that’s not quite what you were looking for. And often, those sites have questionable authority. With Ask a Librarian, you have a professional to help evaluate resources and separate the good from the not-so-good. Ask a Librarian brings this valuable resource straight to you when and where you need it.

Should I try to save or write down all of the Web site addresses you send me during our session?

It’s not necessary. When your chat session is over, you will have the option of viewing or saving your transcript session, which will include all of the Web site addresses your librarian suggested.

What are the minimum system requirements for me to use Ask a Librarian?

You can use any computer, tablet, or even a smartphone. All you need is Internet accessibility, although your Ask a Librarian session – like all web-based applications – will respond best with a broadband or other quality connection.