** Note: If you didn’t receive this in the much more attractive email format earlier today, please email Traci at avett@tblc.org 

March Madness Month

A month of surprising facts, informative highlights, and fun activities… all for the chance to brag about our incredible services!

And the Winners are…

In Issue 6 of the March Madness Month series, we challenged you to take our Customer Service Question 2 Quiz – to tell us which option you’d choose in the below scenario and why. The scenario described highlights the uncertainty that can arise when users write things we’re not sure how to interpret, or if we’re unsure of the direction a so-far-harmless chat might be taking.

To refresh your memory, take a look at the original question and the 3 possible responses:

While researching your user’s valid question, he or she has sent 2 or 3 statements that seem really off-topic or irrelevant. They’re not inappropriate, but you’re starting to wonder if they’re just wasting time. What do you do?

1. End the chat immediately… no use taking chances. If they have a real question, they will need to stick to the topic. 

2. Feel it out a bit… continue researching, but just be alert for any changes in direction.
3. Send the “Your IP has been captured” script to the user. Lets them know that unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated, just in case that’s where they’re headed.

Which one would you choose?  If you selected option 1 or 3, you’ll definitely want to work on being more flexible and patient while in chat; just like in your libraries, it’s important to avoid no-context snap judgments as much as possible. We know that some moments are easier than others – for example, when staff are posting Inappropriate IP address warnings in the Agent Room, and the next chat you pick up is a middle-school student with a childlike screen name and an unclear question, it’s probably natural to fight off a tiny bit of hypervigilance… but fight it off anyway, because you could be way off base.

Option 2 is the best one because you want to avoid ending a chat prematurely. When in doubt, wait it out a bit. There could be any number of reasons for it. For example, given the lack of some of the visual social cues (such as a smile when a patron approaches the desk) in virtual reference, a bit of idle chit-chat might be a user’s way of making “small talk” in a virtual environment. For those no-question/no-direction users, there is a “no question” script that asks them if they’re interested in learning more about the AaL service. Be alert, but patient! Either way, if you later decide that the user has negative intentions, scripts from the “Inappropriate” folder will help you out; those other options are still there. But at least you are not misjudging someone who is coming to you for help.

And the Winning Responses are…

Cheryl Callavini, Jacksonville Public Library:  “Number 2. Feel it out a bit… continue researching, but just be alert for any changes in direction.  There could be several reasons for a customer sending off-topic statements. They could be chatty, filling in the time while you are researching their answer, or their mind could be thinking/writing on topics all over the spectrum.  I would redirect them to the question at hand.  I’ve had a lot of experience on redirecting someone to get them back on course, with an ADD husband and daughter.”

Christa Fowler, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee:  “Option 2.  I try to not to make snap judgements based on only one or two responses to my questions. The patron may not have had a chance to think through their research process.  (A bit like walking into a store looking for a gift for someone, but we haven’t a clue what we’re looking for!) Sometimes I slow down, back up and avoid looking at the clock.”

Kira Smith, Ask a Librarian Intern:  “I would select answer 2. Feel it out a bit…continue researching but just be alert for any changes in direction. One of my favorite scripts for this type of situation is, “I really want to help you get this assignment started.  Let’s get back to ….”. This way the patron can still have the question answered and feel good about using Ask A Librarian, even if a friend or sibling has done something inappropriate. It is a way to refocus the chat without alienating the patron. Sometimes patrons, especially young ones, are just testing the limits and you can set them without being overly harsh.”

Natasha Godwin, Santa Rosa County Library System:  “At this point, it would be premature to either end the chat immediately or send the IP capture script. It is very possible that the researcher has one or more questions but is not sure how to express or phrase them. A quality reference interview will aid in determining what information the person is seeking or whether he or she is, in fact, “wasting time.””

Renee Patterson, Alachua County Library District & AaL Intern:  “Depending on the comments, I’d call them on it.  “Are you still interested in resources for <original topic>?  <Their irrelevant statement> doesn’t seem to be related.”  Usually this is where they’ll tell me their brother/sister/friend/dog grabbed the keyboard….  : ).”



When speaking to users, please keep in mind these important talking points:

  • If you ever need help when you’re not in our library, visit www.askalibrarian.org (or find the link on our library’s website).
  • Ask a Librarian is a website where you can go to get your questions answered by a real librarian.
  • Ask a Librarian is open for live chat and texting until midnight ET Sunday through Thursday, and until 5 p.m. ET Friday and Saturday.
  • You can use Ask a Librarian for free.
  • If Ask a Librarian isn’t open for chat or texting, you can always email your question, and your library’s staff will get back to you within 24 hours.