The Public Library Quality Improvement Matrix has had a considerable impact on the Scottish library landscape over the last few years. PLQIM has not only been instrumental in supporting some very exciting service development at local level, but has also been used to promote collaboration and to develop a joined-up digital landscape for Scottish libraries. Certainly, this has been at the heart of Ask Scotland, that national virtual reference service that is co-ordinated by SLIC and supported by PLQIM.
This extract, taken from early project documentation, sets out exactly what Ask Scotland is about. The principle aims of the service are: -to encourage collaboration -to open up and promote the rich collections and services– making them available to a global audience. -to promote the professional skills and accumulated knowledge of librarians -to help public libraries to develop their web services in line with trends elsewhere and, indeed, with user expectations (an increase of almost 25% in visits to public library websites over the last year) -crucially, to create user friendly (and user focused) online services Ask Scotland started off as a public library initiative and the pilot phase was launched in June 2009. This initial phase involved an email-based enquiry service, using the Question Point virtual reference platform from OCLC. And the main focus was on questions related to all things Scottish. Since then, service has opened up to accept all reference queries on any topic (end 2009) Also, chat service was introduced early summer 2010. Ready for full public launch August 2010
At the moment, 14 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities take part. The aim is to have all on board by the end of 2011, with a new batch starting up in January and the remaining authorities by Dec 2011. The vision for the service has always been to create the foundation for a wholly national reference service – including libraries across different sectors. We’ve started work in expanding the Ask Scotland network already, with several special libraries now participating and, by the end of the year, we will have our first FE library too. We’re also well on our way to signing up our first HE library and in bringing school librarians into the project too. Underpinning this is an over-arching digital library services model that offers the user single point of access to information, regardless of physical location. This links to other national electronic services co-ordinated by SLIC and is part of Scotland’s Common Information Environment.
The main elements of the Ask Scotland website are: email, chat and the answerbase... The email service Question is submitted via the web form and goes to the library that is monitoring the rota at that time Librarian picks it up, researches response and sends answer within 48 hours
As of Summer 2010, the other option that exists is instant chat – lets people get an instant answer or gives the opportunity to discuss more complex queries for follow-up by email.
Ask Scotland has been the first QP service to open up the bank of asked and answered questions to make them searchable by the users. Over the past 3 months (since public launch) it’s become clear that the answerbase has value as a service in its own right, and web stats point to a clear demand for the service. This has led to the RSS feed – also a first for QuestionPoint virtual reference services. Added value in ability to re-use questions and avoid duplicated effort – ability to draw on a global answerbase through QuestionPoint. Answerbase options: Browse (3 most recently added go on to website) Search Subscribe via RSS
Another key aim for Ask Scotland was to join up with the work that’s gone before in creating national services, so that it’s truly joined-up. Ask Scotland is very much integrated with Scotland’s Information landscape – the ongoing collaborative effort to create joined up digital library services led by SLIC. Through Ask Scotland, we’re looking at rebranding existing services – such as the combined catalogue search first made possible by CAIRNS and the library location details held in SLIR. For example, the Scotland’s Information map tool – which is powered by SLIR data - is indicated with this attractive ‘find your library’ button within Ask Scotland to make it more appealing to users. The map creates a national search of not only libraries but also museums, archives and galleries too. Not only can you find out about specific locations but information about services and general facilities (including accessibility) is also listed. CAIRNS – Co-operative Information Retrieval Network for Scotland
As a web-based service, Ask Scotland’s target audience is very broad – basically, anyone who uses the web may become a user. However, there were specific groups that we thought the service might particularly appeal to, and this has been borne out by experience... The main factors that bring people to Ask Scotland are: Depth of collections (because we still have plenty of stuff that Google doesn’t cover) Reliability and credibility Information literacy function – librarians’ ability to search, evaluate and present resources.
Generally speaking, the types of question fall into these broad categories: Scotland and all things Scottish – from national perspective to narrow regional issues -from names of streets to local urban myths (kangaroos in Paisley park) General history and general knowledge -when do conkers fall and when do I have to renew my food hygiene certificate Information sources, resources and library info -where can I access 19thC newspapers and when will my library offer ebooks? Book recommendations/info about books -can you recommend a book to teach daylight saving to pre-school children? Miscellaneous or quirky questions -Mickey Mouse questions....researched and referenced (source: Cambridge Guide to Children’s Books in English) Process for dealing with more malicious questions
August publicity involving Neil Oliver had a huge impact on queries: Broad press coverage (local and national) Radio segment 400% increase in visits to the website Questions submitted have stayed at between 250-300 per month New publicity materials package for libraries (bookmarks, mouse mats and posters) Further media releases planned (technical developments and publicity/author events planned) Target of 500 queries per month
New batch of public library services for Jan 2011 (still to be finalised) The broader network idea is starting to materialise: Specialist services now on board – SPL and GWL First FE by end of year HE early next year – volunteer identified Glow and Scotland’s History (LTS) Interest from Museums – followed up early next year Technical updates will be ongoing – next big development will be release of a mobile application.
Ask Scotland national reference service.
Reference Services for a 21st
Senior Information Officer, SLIC
Ask Scotland: the aims
“...a collaborative national service
that pools the staff and resources of
Scotland’s library services to bring
their knowledge and rich collections
to a global audience.”
The bigger picture:
Scotland’s Information Landscape
Who uses Ask Scotland?
• Accuracy over speed
• Free from bias/opinion
posing as fact
• Filling the Google Gap -
depths of collections
• Helping users manage
Target user groups
• School pupils
• Local history
• Visitors to Scotland
• The ex-pat community
What kinds of questions are
Why does Mickey
Mouse have big
ears? What areas of Scotland have
never spoken Gaelic as the
Between the Dutch and
Portugal, who was the first to
explore, and settle in, Africa?
Where can I find out
about Jane Austen’s aunt
who went to India to find
Where can I find out
about Jane Austen’s aunt
who went to India to find