Author Archives: Sabrina

About Sabrina

Sabrina is a freelance writer and Librarian. She worked in academic librraies for over a decade and is now a Solo Librarian for a Special Library. When not writing or running a library, she enjoys knitting and photography.

Library Thought Leaders Q&A: Mary-Carol Lindbloom (Executive Director South Central Regional Library Council)

Today’s library thought leader is Mary-Carol Lindbloom, the Executive Director for the South Central Regional Library Council in New York state.

When did you get started in reference, and more specifically virtual reference?

In the summer of 1999, when a group of us, including Tom Peters, Lori Bell, and Ginny McCoy, met in person at Eureka College (IL) to brainstorm a grant for an academic virtual reference collaborative. Eureka, indeed! Initially, as we thought about the grant, we planned to staff the virtual desk afternoons only. But it was a grant—why not experiment and use that opportunity to explore 24/7 virtual reference? Would students and others really use the service in the middle of the night? The grant application was successful, so we used that opportunity to find out. I was the project director for the grant and Bernie Sloan was the evaluator who analyzed such areas as time of day, days of week, questions, etc. I have only been involved with virtual reference in a collaborative environment—the service was planned, implemented, and delivered collaboratively. That project was called Ready for Reference; a year later we combined with a public library virtual reference service to form My Web Librarian; eventually MWL merged with AskAwayIllinois.

How did you come up with the idea for My Info Quest?

I personally didn’t! Many of us had been working with virtual reference for over a decade at that point, and Lori Bell, who worked at the Alliance Library System in Peoria in 2009, raised the question about SMS texting as a service platform for the 21st century. She was able to secure funding to test this; when the funding ended, the project continued as a library/library system-sustained program. SCRLC had been involved in MIQ from the get-go, so we took over some of the leadership after the Illinois library systems merged.

If you were to start it again, what would you do differently?

I would have a business plan from the get-go. Several virtual reference cooperatives have started with grant funding, and find it very challenging to move from grant funding to library-sustained. I might explore grant funding to study certain aspects of the service, but at the core, there has to be a committed group of libraries willing to pay for the service. There also has to be ample funding for a project coordinator/director and marketing—marketing to two difference audiences (librarians and library users).

What advice do you have to anyone looking to manage a cooperative?

This advice pertains to a virtual reference cooperative! Ensure you have adequate time and funding to devote to the process, including time to evaluate and analyze. If you do not have a general business plan or strategic plan, get with your group and develop one—include goals and objectives. As with all library positions in the 21st century (and all centuries, for that matter!), there are multiple components to manage within a virtual reference cooperative. Be comfortable with ambiguity and change—it is cliché but those are the constants—especially change. In addition to time spent on the actual desk answering questions, in MIQ there are scheduling, marketing, best practices, standards/policies, recruitment, training, and sustainability. Ensure that training is interactive, even at a distance. Sharon Kim, our current coordinator, has used Google Neighborhood and GoToMeeting to train librarians and students (we have student librarians in this service, as well). She developed practice questions that also lead trainees through the service’s best practices. Set up a Google Group to communicate (this is used to sent pointers, meeting notices, participants request temporary desk shift changes, other information, etc.). Try to meet virtually on a regular basis (we have monthly meetings for those who can tune in). Develop working groups, as needed—one wonderful aspect of being part of a collaborative service is that we don’t have to go it alone! MIQ has a culture where participants feel safe and comfortable in expressing and contributing their ideas.

What does virtual reference look like in the future?

Most libraries reachable to their users via virtual reference services! The number of libraries that are not reachable via virtual reference, i.e., SMS text and web-based chat, is amazing to me. In point-of-need service, which many of us try to provide, users/members/patrons must be able to walk in, phone, email, text, or chat up the reference desk. If I recall, according to one of the Pew studies, 31% of texters prefer texting to talking—and that was a study that included young adults but not teens. If we are to stay relevant to future users, we absolutely have to be reachable to users in all ways. I would like to see libraries rival the commercial chat services, e.g., ChaCha—to be the go-to service for questions that increasingly our smart phones can’t answer. And I do think that is a factor. We’re seeing less “ready reference” questions in our service and more library-related. With the increase in smart phone ownership, I think that those folks are finding their own quick answers. VR still enables us to be the human behind the machine! But…it could go the other way—with budget and time challenges, there could be fewer individual libraries offering their users this capability, and cooperatives could dissolve. Hopefully that only occurs in an anti-universe far, far away! My hope: All users are met at their point of need 24/7/365, by librarians—that our libraries are relevant, valued, and supported by our communities! I would also like to see VR become such a standard part of library service that there is no need for lists in the Wikipedia of libraries that offer virtual reference (or SMS text reference). When is the last time you saw a list of libraries that offer phone or email reference?

What is a current trend in libraries that interests you?

Just one? The effect of patron-driven-acquisitions on resource sharing and collection development; trends in texting for information; best practices for continuing education delivered via distance learning; assessment and the relationship between student outcomes and library services.

Ok, now ask us a question.

Where do you see Mosio for Libraries in five-years, including…..any plans for a back-up reference service?

About Mary-Carol Lindbloom: Mary-Carol is the Executive Director for the South Central Regional Library Council. SCRLC is a non-profit, multi-type library consortium, operating under charter by the New York State Board of Regents. It has member libraries located in the counties of Allegany, Broome, Cayuga, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates. The members include academic, corporate, hospital, public, school, and non-profit libraries.

Facebook: South Central Regional Library Council
Twitter: SCRLC

Google Talk Workarounds for Mosio for Libraries Notifications (Not Using Hangouts)

Virtual Reference Software Tips - Web Chat / Instant Message / Mosio

A Public Library Mosio patron writes, “We’ve been using Google Talk to notify us of new Text a Librarian questions. Now that Google Talk has been discontinued (and sort of replaced by Google Hangouts), we’re finding that Google Hangouts is not notifying us of new Text a Librarian messages. What do you recommend for a library in our predicament?”

To make sure you don’t miss out on any more of your Text A Librarian messages, we suggest the following workaround. Download a different chat client, such as either Pidgin or Trillian. We recommend Pidgin. When setting it up, enter your Google Talk email address in the section for accounts. Then use the client to view your messages.

Self-service at the Library

Mosio Picture

According to a 2010 article in Library Journal, “85 percent of libraries offer some sort of self-service, and that percentage goes up with the size of the population served.” The variety of self-service options include: self checkout, book and DVD vending machines, automated computer booking and online account access. The article also found that overall libraries and patrons are happy with self-service options, but as with anything there are some possible drawbacks.

Whether or not to embrace self-service, and what kinds of self-services to offer, is an individual decision for each library. Smaller libraries simply may not be able to justify the cost of some self-service options, while larger libraries may find that they recoup the costs quickly by freeing up staff for other tasks. Moving beyond cost, the most important factor to consider is overall customer service and support.

Online tools, such as library card registration, renewals and holds are relatively easy to implement, and provide customers with increased service. While they often are still able to take care of these tasks in person, they are also able to take care of them outside of library hours on their own schedule. Similarly, book and DVD vending machines offer patrons access to popular materials at all hours, without altering access to library services during normal business hours.

A tool like automated computer books frees librarians from the odious task of monitoring computer use and referring disputes. It frees up the time and energy of staff, and prevents them from having to engage with the public in a negative way.

Self-checkout can also free up staff time and streamline library services, but it can have the disadvantage of limiting face to face time between staff and patrons. One potential way of addressing this issue is to have staff available in other ways, such as meeting and greeting patrons as they enter the library, triaging requests and helping direct them to the Reference desk or library catalog stations.

When considering any library self-service option, it is important to remember there will be a learning curve for patrons. Training and advertising are key elements to a successful role out. Staff should be available to assist patrons with the transition and answer questions. A customer feedback system can be used to monitor success.

How to Create a Great FAQ Page for Your Library

isolated faq button

A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page can be a useful tool that patrons, and even library staff, can refer to to get helpful answers to frequent questions. However, FAQs can often become outdated, and lackluster FAQs will give a poor impression of your library and its customer service. A well thought out and maintained FAQ page can serve as a great resource and a good marketing tool for library services.


Make sure to discover what your patrons are really asking. Keep a log at the reference desk where librarians can note questions that are asked. Go through and group like questions together and decide which questions are appropriate for a FAQ. They should be questions that are not only frequently asked, but that are brief and easily answered to completion in an online document.


Keep your FAQ timely and up to date. It may be too much of a burden to continually track all questions posed to the reference desk, but you may want to have reference staff note when new repeat questions seem to pop up. You can also select certain time periods throughout the year to have questions logged.


Ensure that your answers are clear and answer the question completely. Inquiries that require a more in depth explanation, or have various nuances,  may not be appropriate for an FAQ document.


Make your FAQ easy to find and easy to search. Place the link in an obvious place on your website. You may want to have the link in several locations. Group questions by subject and have a search function, so patrons can find the answers they are looking for without too much effort or any aggravation.


Consider letting patrons contribute ideas for the FAQ. Provide a form or a contact page for them to submit ideas. Obvious contact information is also necessary to make sure patrons know where to go next in case the FAQ doesn’t answer their question.


Remember that a great FAQ document can be a key element to successful customer service. Patrons can get quick satisfaction by finding their own answers to basic questions. Additionally, rather than repeatedly answering the same questions library staff can quickly and easily refer patrons directly to the FAQ, saving valuable time.

Virtual Reference – When to Collaborate


The spirit of sharing and cooperation is perfectly at home in the Library world. The most traditional form of collaboration is Interlibrary Loan, but libraries have also found some more unique ways to collaborate, including through shared virtual reference services. There are several things to keep in mind when establishing collaboration on virtual reference service. Consider your goals.

Think about subject matter. Partnering with libraries with similar focus and clientele will ensure a consistency of service, but searching for libraries with a different focus could broaden the type of reference queries you can answer through virtual reference. Think about your patron base. Who are they and what type of questions are they most likely to ask?

Think about location. Local libraries may ensure ease in the collaboration process, but reaching out to libraries in other regions can increase the hours of availability for your virtual reference services. Collaboration between Universities from different time zones could mean available reference service in the wee hours of the morning, when students might be finishing up that paper, but the library isn’t open.

When entering into collaboration you want to make sure that all institutions are on the same page. Everyone should be willing to commit roughly the same amount of effort and time. No one institution should be unduly burdened. Once your virtual reference collaboration is off and running you’ll want to keep careful statistics. Keep record of when the queries are coming in, who is answering them, and the basic subject matter. Use these numbers to continue ensuring that the workload is evenly distributed, and to think about areas where you might need to broaden your individual collection and services.

Collaboration doesn’t make sense for every library. Your individual institution will need to decide what is right for them. However, it is worth investigating and thinking about how it can improve your virtual references services and the customer experience. After all, it’s all about the patron.


6 Ways to be More Efficient with Your Virtual Reference Services

Text a Librarian Tips from Mosio | Virtual Reference Chat Widget

Virtual references services can broaden the scope of library services, and help you to reach new patrons, but one of the keys to a successful virtual reference program is efficiency.

1. Create a FAQ for you and for patrons. A FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list is a helpful resource for any library website that both benefits patron service and saves staff time. Patrons can answer their own questions quickly without aid of a staff member, staff can direct patrons directly to the appropriate question and answer, or staff can use the FAQ to help answer the questions themselves.

2. Have devoted time blocks for staff members for virtual reference. Virtual reference services should provide patrons with the same quality service as traditional service. If staff members are multi-tasking or prone to interruption while performing virtual reference, it may impede the quality of service. If you can’t set aside blocks of devoted time, or it doesn’t make sense given your virtual reference traffic, have staff working on projects that are easily interrupted and set aside.

3. Select your virtual reference tool wisely. Do your research before selecting a tool for your virtual reference services. You want a tool that can handle the virtual reference traffic efficiently, and you don’t want staff having to troubleshoot technical glitches while providing service.

4. Keep virtual reference limited to ready reference. Virtual reference services should be limited to questions that can be answered quickly and easily. For questions that require more extensive research, request the patron’s contact information.

5. Keep key reference sources at your fingertips. Create a set of shared bookmarks for online resources so staff can refer to them easily and quickly. If there are books that are frequently used to answer reference questions, have staff keep those on hand while engaging in virtual reference.

6. Consider Collaboration. Many libraries collaborate with other libraries on virtual reference service. This can be done through organization with an established consortium, or by reaching out to peer institutions.