KnowItNow: Ohio's Online Reference Service


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Given at the INFOhio "Preparing 21st Century Learners" Workshop on July 17, 2012 at Muskingum University.

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  • Good afternoon. I’d like to thank Cherie for the opportunity to come and talk to you today about KnowItNow, Ohio’s online reference service. I am Don Boozer, the coordinator of KnowItNow.
  • How many people have heard of KnowItNow? For you as well as those of you unfamiliar with the service, let me explain what KnowItNow is and how it works…
  • KnowItNow is Ohio’s statewide online reference service. Let’s unpack that phrase:
  • Statewide – KnowItNow serves all the residents of Ohio. We are one of over a dozen statewide online reference services around the country. We’re also the busiest service of our kind.
  • The project is funded through a federal LSTA grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded by the State Library of Ohio. I am based out of Cleveland Public Library. Our liaison with OhioLINK, Megan Mitchell, is a reference librarian at Oberlin College.
  • KnowItNow is staffed by librarians around the state at 74 institutions: public libraries, academic libraries, and special libraries. Currently, around 20% of libraries in the state contribute staffing during daytime and early evening hours. Afterhours, KnowItNow contracts with the Northeast Ohio Regional Library System to provide “freelance” librarians to cover evening and early morning hours.
  • KnowItNow is “online”…
  • … Meaning that Ohioans can access librarians staffing the service through a variety of technology channels online. Most of KnowItNow’s questions come through our live chat service, but people can also contact certain libraries through instant messaging and localized chat reference. Librarians can also followup with students via email. We also allow people to text us questions and we’re working with developers to provide apps for chatting on smartphones.
  • Here is our interface on the web for our KnowItNow live chat reference at To text KnowItNow a question, one simply has to text the word knowitnow to 66746. This is the channel for K-12 students and the general public.
  • Here is our interface on the web for our KnowItNow Academic live chat reference at This is a collaboration between OhioLINK and KnowItNow and is to be used only by students at OhioLINK universities. These librarians also help out with some general questions as part of our collaboration. To text the OhioLINK librarians a question, one simply has to text the word ohiolink to 66746.
  • Finally, we come to the “reference service” part of that phrase. Librarians staffing KnowItNow can provide similar service as one would receive by walking into a library and asking the librarians there for help. As you saw we provide access to the service for all ages through and specifically for OhioLINK students through So, if students learn about the KnowItNow brand in even 5th or 6th grade, they can use that same service throughout high school, into college and beyond…
  • 87% of the people using KnowItNow are students, either K-12 or post-secondary.
  • … and librarians staffing KnowITNow have handled over 3 quarters of a million sessions since the service went statewide in 2004.
  • So, that’s who we are and where you can find us. How does the service work from the perspective of a student who wants to ask a question…
  • Let’s use the K-12 and general public website. First, one enters his or her Ohio ZIP code. This “authenticates” the person as being from Ohio but also allows us to provide some data to the librarians behind the scenes like which public library is associated with the person’s area.
  • Once the ZIP code is entered, this screen pops up. As you can see there’s some optional and required information. People can remain anonymous if they wish. If they enter a valid email, they receive an automatic transcript of their session sent to that email address. This comes in handy in providing a record of all the resources and links a librarian sends. A question is the only required field to fill in except for…
  • Grade level. This also provides the librarians with some information and helps them tailor resources to the individual.
  • Finally, when the person has filled in the form, he or she clicks “Connect to a librarian”…
  • This screen shows what the person will see while waiting for a librarian to pick up their question. If someone has to leave before being picked up, that yellow arrow shows where they can click to leave a message for a follow-up by email.
  • Here is the beginning of a live chat reference session…
  • … and here’s what it looks like as the chat continues. The yellow arrow shows a web address that the librarian has sent. If the student click that link…
  • … the web page will open in their own browser: A separate tab if in Firefox, a separate window if in Internet Explorer.
  • If you’d like to provide links to KnowItNow on your website or use our lesson plan materials, we’ve provided an “online media kit” on our Provider Site at with logos, posters, lesson plans, and more. Just click on Marketing Materials at the top or along the side. The lesson plan’s PowerPoint contains a canned session to provide examples of how to access the service similar to the one we just viewed. I’ve also brought along bookmarks, note pads, and pins. PLEASE take as many of those as you wish to share with your students. So, to wrap up today…
  • … I’d like to share the Top 5 things that librarians would like students to know about KnowItNow…
  • Librarians are very appreciative of students that respond to things like “Where have you looked?” “Does that help answer your question?” “Can you tell me a little more. I’m not sure I understand your question.” Don’t be afraid to provide details so you can get the resources that are going to help you.
  • Unfortunately, we get a number of students who copy and past essay questions from homework or ask complex algebra or calculus problems. Librarians can provide resources to help with these kinds of projects but they can’t answer questions like “What are good examples of light/dark imagery in Macbeth that symbolize evil?” or “What is the slope of the line tangent to y = sin^2(5x+pi) at x=pi/4”. Both these are actual questions we recently received on the service.
  • When students ask librarians for their full names, where they live, how old they are, whether they’re a boy or a girl, and similar questions, this is a good time to remind those students that giving our personal information over the Internet isn’t a good idea for the librarians OR for them.
  • Often, we only have a handful of librarians around the state staffing the service at any one time. So, sometimes this means that a librarian will be working with two or more people at a time. Patience is greatly appreciated. This also means that if an entire class or study hall login to KnowItNow all at the same time, the librarians will quickly become overwhelmed. This also sets up a negative situation for the students as well. The best way to handle presenting KnowItNow to a class is to have one or two students login with their question and let the remainder of the class watch to see how it’s done. It’s also fine to say “Our class is talking about rocks & minerals. Do you have some info on that?” Then the other students can try the service individually after school or in study hall. Librarians always ask me to share the please to “PLEASE don’t let ALL your students login at once.” Trust me, it will be appreciated.
  • Finally, KnowItNow is not a piece of artificially intelligent software. It’s not a search engine. It’s a way for student to interact with real, live people working in libraries around the state. A pleasant “Hi” or “Thanks” goes a long way towards having a positive interaction between the student and the librarian in both directions.
  • KnowItNow: Ohio's Online Reference Service

    1. 1. Ohio’s Online Reference ServiceHelping StudentsK through 12 and Beyond… Don Boozer Preparing 21st Century Learners KnowItNow Workshop Coordinator July 17, 2012
    2. 2. What is KnowItNow?
    3. 3. What is KnowItNow? Statewide Online Reference Service
    4. 4. 240 129 @ @ 40 23 Public OhioLINKLibraries 63 74 45local NEO-RLS institutions AfterDark @ 11Libraries
    5. 5. What is KnowItNow? Statewide Online Reference Service
    6. 6. @
    7. 7. Textknowitnowto 66746 K-12 Students and General Public
    8. 8. Textohiolinkto 66746 OhioLINK Students
    9. 9. What is KnowItNow? Statewide Online Reference Service
    10. 10. 87%Students 69% K-12 18%Post-secondary
    11. 11. 750,000+Sessions Since 2004
    12. 12. How does it work?
    13. 13. > Marketing Materials
    14. 14. Five Things To Know About KnowItNow
    15. 15. 1. We’re real people.2. Please be patient.3. Privacy.4. Can’t dohomework for you.5. Work with yourlibrarian.
    16. 16. 1. We’re real people.2. Please be patient.3. Privacy.4. Can’t dohomework for you.5. Work with yourlibrarian.
    17. 17. 1. We’re real people.2. Please be patient.3. Privacy.4. Can’t dohomework for you.5. Work with yourlibrarian.
    18. 18. 1. We’re real people.2. Please be patient.3. Privacy.4. Can’t dohomework for you.5. Work with yourlibrarian.
    19. 19. 1. We’re real people.2. Please be patient.3. Privacy.4. Can’t dohomework for you.5. Work with yourlibrarian.
    20. 20. Thank you! Don Boozer KnowItNow Coordinator Help yourselfto bookmarks, pads, and buttons!