Magazine article Information Today

QuestionPoint Marks New Era in Virtual Reference

Magazine article Information Today

QuestionPoint Marks New Era in Virtual Reference

Article excerpt

In the history of computing, the date to remember is the one when IBM produced the first PC. In the history of the Internet, future historians may note the date when Mosaic became Netscape or perhaps when Bill Gates finally decided Microsoft would recognize the Net. It's not the originating date, it's the maturing date. The Virtual Reference Desk movement may have reached such a juncture with the launch of QuestionPoint by OCLC, the world's leading library vendor, in a joint project with the Library of Congress, the world's largest library. The production model of the service was scheduled to go online June 23.

QuestionPoint (http://www.questionpoint .org) stems from a arrangement between the Library of Congress' Public Service Collections Directorate and OCLC to provide libraries with access to a growing collaborative network of reference librarians in the U.S. and around the world. Library patrons can submit questions at any time of the day or night through their local library's Web site. Initially (except for afterhours service) the referral of the questions will go through librarians.

The service operates at two levels for subscribing libraries. It will support local libraries that set up their own live online reference arrangements (sometimes called "Ask a" services) by tapping their own internal staff or reference librarians from regional consortia. At the second level, questions go to the Global Reference Network, an international group of libraries led by the Library of Congress' own service. Institutions may choose to participate in one or both.

The Library of Congress and OCLC signed an initial cooperative agreement in 2001 to develop a prototype for a new reference service based on the Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS), a pilot project begun in early 2000 by the Library of Congress and 16 partner libraries. QuestionPoint marks the official launch of a service growing out of CDRS. "The service is built by librarians for librarians and is facilitated, administered, and maintained by the Library of Congress and OCLC working together for the best interest of libraries," said Frank Hermes, vice president of OCLC Cooperative Discovery Services.

"QuestionPoint is about redefining the role of the library and the librarian in the digital age," said Diane Kresh, director of public service collections at the Library of Congress. "The technology enhances the services we are able to provide to our traditional users. It will also enable librarians throughout the world to collaborate with their colleagues and work with new audiences in creative and exciting ways." According to Kresh, participants in MRS advised the addition of major new features that appear in QuestionPoint, such as an extensive online knowledge-base archive, automatic routing, and a chat feature. The MRS program, which will now be closing its doors, had reached 260 participating libraries. Kresh says that fewer will belong to the initial QuestionPoint service.

Basic features of QuestionPoint's technology include the following:

Filing, tracking, and managing Web-delivered questions from patrons Linking tools for insertion on local library Web sites for customizable, locally branded access to the QuestionPoint service

Web-based question-submission forms, e-mail interaction, and live chat service

Automatic routing of questions using a request manager to other library staff locally, to other libraries in consortia or cooperatives, and/or to appropriate libraries in the Global Reference Network

Identification of appropriate library strengths for such routing through matching metadata on questions with automated profiles of library resources, expertise, availability of staff, etc.

Integration of QuestionPoint services with alternative service providers and the resources that local libraries use Construction and sharing of a global knowledge base of asked and answered reference questions with full, maintained sourcing

To join QuestionPoint, librarians fill out a subscription order on the site using either the individual institution or group member form (for consortia participants). …

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