Magazine article Computers in Libraries

QRC: We Call It Quirk

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

QRC: We Call It Quirk

Article excerpt

The acronym associated with IPL's Reference Center software product doesn't really stand for anything in particular, but it does roll off the tongue fairly nicely. Michael McClennen, the IPL system administrator, developed QRC in the early months of the IPL Reference Center, in response to our needs as reference librarians who had a distributed patronage and a distributed work force. Once questions started flowing into the IPL Reference Desk, we quickly realized that it was imperative to have in place a mechanism to prevent duplicate work and to track the progress of individual questions so that none would "fall through the cracks."

We wanted a system that patrons could interact with via both Web forms and e-mail, and one that our volunteer librarians could access from anywhere in the world without needing special software. For this reason, we ruled out adapting Lotus Notes or other expensive multifunctional products. We also wanted a system that would archive answered questions, both so that we could re-use our work and so that we could extract quantitative and qualitative data with which to refine our reference process. Facing the lack of a suitable existing product, McClennen began work on a special-purpose program that would precisely suit the needs of a distributed reference service--work that led to the QRC system.

At its base, QRC is a program that facilitates communication. It not only provides a communication channel between patrons and librarians, but it also allows librarians to coordinate their activity and to share their work. In order to answer a question, a librarian has to be able to engage in a dialogue with the patron, to request more information if necessary, to receive the patron's followup messages, and to send an answer back. Efficient and timely communication is vital when the two never meet face-to-face. At the same time, efficient handling of questions requires coordination among the librarians. This may take the form of triage, with one librarian sorting the real questions from mistakes and spam, and sorting the questions into categories. It might also involve one librarian posting a partial answer and asking for help from someone with more experience in the subject area. And, of course, there needs to be a mechanism to prevent two librarians from trying to answer the same question at the same time.

The QRC program acts as both a Web server and an e-mail server. The administrators of a QRC installation start by defining "categories" to hold the different kinds of messages that a site expects to get, and then can easily set up Web forms and e-mail addresses that feed messages into QRC. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.