March 7, 2002

Chat Online With Librarians at Mann

Print More

With Mann Library’s new LiveHelp program, students can ask Mann librarians questions over the Internet in real time. Running from 6 to 9 p.m., Monday to Thursday, the LiveHelp program is available from the Mann Library’s main Web site.

Mann librarians hope the LiveHelp program will assist students in use of the Mann Library’s Web site and the Cornell Library Gateway.

The chat software, called 24/7 Reference, allows librarians to guide a student to part of a Web site, even if the librarian and student are physically separated. Both the student and librarian see a split screen Web site with their chat on the right side and the Library Gateway Web site on the left side. The student’s screen changes as the librarian guides the student through his or her problem.

The software also sends a transcript of the chat conversation to the users after the session ends.

“[The student] will see what I’m seeing, and I can see what they are seeing,” said Meryl Brodsky, public services library for Mann Library. “It works pretty well if you can see [their perspective]…. It’s pretty cool.”

The LiveHelp librarians at Mann generally talk to about one person per night, with use growing steadily. “It has been increasing, people have been finding it, and we’ve been getting more and more,” Brodsky said.

“[The amount of traffic has] picked up in the last few weeks,” said Jim Morris-Knower, publicity and public relations coordinator for Mann.

According to Brodsky, the low student response to the program may be due to a lack of advertising on the Library’s part. Despite the convenience of the system, librarians reported that the medium has its drawbacks.

“In person, you get body language from people. In chat, people are quick to say, ‘Thank you, good-bye.’ You don’t know if you’ve really helped them.”

Mann Library installed the LiveHelp system in early February as part of an effort to expand their resource base for students.

“[The program was] something the library has been talking about for a couple of years,” said Morris-Knower.

Olin, Uris and Kroch Libraries have run LiveHelp as a joint service since January 2000. At the time, few other institutions had installed similar services.

“They sort of broke the trail,” said Morris-Knower.

According to Paul Constantine, head reference librarian at the Olin-Uris-Kroch system, the service has proved very successful.

“Students seem to like LiveHelp because they can get reference help from anywhere they have access to the Web,” said Constantine.

Olin-Uris-Kroch are participating in a cooperative effort with University of Washington to expand the LiveHelp system’s hours. By taking advantage of the time difference between the two universities, the librarians from each can assist more students during a wider range of hours.

Currently, Mann Library is trying LiveHelp on a trial basis.

“I think the idea is to see, is this the right software and is this the right service?” said Morris-Knower. “[We’re asking] is this appealing, is this of added value or is it just gimmicky?”

Students showed mixed reactions to the service. “I usually just come to the library when I have to do research,” said Christine Banks ’03. “I think it’s a good idea. … It saves you a trip to the library, if you don’t want to go.”

“I haven’t used [LiveHelp] … I don’t think I would use it really,” said Dava Cazcolli grad.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher