Happy Birthday Maryland AskUsNow! Statewide Virtual Reference Service
On Wednesday March 19th I traveled south to the newly built and beautiful Anne Arundel Public Library for the gala 5th birthday celebration of Maryland AskUsNow! This festivity brought together an impressive turnout of librarians, state government representatives, and dignitaries such as the Maryland Assistant State Superintendent for Libraries, Irene M. Padilla, and Nancy S. Grasmick, State Superintendent of Schools. Everyone came together to recognize the accomplishments of this highly successful and widely admired statewide live chat and e-mail reference consortium. I happily braved the traffic of the spring break holiday getaway mob heading south on highway 95 to give the keynote address, to facilitate a workshop on chat reference service excellence, and to share in this wonderful and historic event.
I first met Joe Thompson (click here and scroll down this page for a picture of the energetic and forward-looking Project Coordinator of Maryland AskUsNow!) at the Virtual Reference Desk conference in 2003 (btw, the forerunner of our highly anticipated Reference Renaissance conference) when I was just getting started in researching interpersonal communication in live chat reference. During my VRD presentation, I made a plea to the audience for some transcripts to analyze. Afterwards Joe approached me, introduced himself, and said “I have 10,000 transcripts, when do you want them?” A bit stunned, I replied, “Well, I don’t need all 10,000. How about pulling me a random sample of about 250-300 transcripts?” Thus began an incredibly cordial and productive collaboration which has resulted in shared conference presentations and panels, the publication of two journal articles on virtual reference (VR) in JASIST and Scan, with more to come, I’m sure.
Joe and his statewide VR team of librarians at Maryland AskUsNow! have worked incredibly hard to forge the service’s success with a total of over 200,000 reference questions answered and counting. They continually reach for the highest quality standards in VR, which I strongly admire and find inspirational. Joe’s willingness to allow an outsider (like me) to have access to transcripts (suitably made anonymous, of course, to protect user privacy) and to the AskUsNow! user population (assisting me in recruiting participants for focus groups, online surveys, and phone interviews) demonstrates his keen interest in research into user behaviors, and commitment to discovering how to make live chat a better experience for both users and librarians. He is ever open to new ideas and continual improvement. I was also very impressed by the number of AskUsNow! librarians who attended my afternoon workshop as well as by their positive attitude toward customer service.
I must also add that I am proud of the amazing Julie Strange, Maryland AskUsNow! Operations Supervisor, who was my student and research assistant at Rutgers, SCILS on our “Seeking Synchronicity” grant project. Tech savvy Julie also shares an incredibly strong and steadfast commitment to high quality service and a fearless Millennial approach to learning novel social software applications, embracing new ways of reaching library users, and especially to connecting with younger chat and IM aficionados.
So here’s to Maryland AskUsNow! 5 years on and looking forward to many many returns of the day!