‘Enquire’ online reference service moves into new phase

In a resounding endorsement of the People’s Network Enquire service, more than 60% of English library authorities have committed to participate in its second phase to March 2009.

[UKPRwire, Thu Dec 14 2006] Enquire, as one of the three People’s Network services (www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/), offers information seekers a live, interactive question and answer service. It sets a marker for public library services online, bringing professional librarian expertise and guidance to the public at their point of need. Through the collective commitment of participating libraries, in collaboration with international partners, Enquire is available 24 hours a day, every day.

Building an online library user community

Since the service was launched in May 2005, Enquire has answered more than 17,000 questions, becoming a valuable tool for a variety of users from school children to freelance researchers.

Enquire is delivered using the QuestionPoint reference management platform from technology partner OCLC PICA. As well as providing the chat tools for communicating with users, QuestionPoint supports the collaborative working between librarians that Enquire needs to provide a 24 hour service. For example, librarians may communicate with each other, transfer calls and follow-up offline by having QuestionPoint email further information after a live interaction has ended.

Local impact

Enquire provides both a national collaborative service and the means for locally delivered services. The local value of Enquire has been explored by a number of authorities who have used the QuestionPoint platform to deliver a range of local services and events at no additional charge. Examples include:

• A local, live ‘Ask a Librarian’ service such as ‘Ask a Kent Librarian’ http://services.kent.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/libraries/online-library-services/ask-a-kent-librarian.htm

• Councillor clinics such as that recently run by Luton Borough Council with chief executive Kevin Crompton http://www.luton.gov.uk/0xc0a80123%200x099029d8

• Essex Libraries Homework Helper service http://www.homework-helper.info/

Participation in Enquire also helps library authorities respond to social inclusion, Best Value and Transformational Government agendas by reaching out to remote users through e-delivery of services.

Building a national, professional community of practice

Staff participating in Enquire enjoy not only the opportunity to help people find information but also the growing sense of belonging to a nationwide and international community of reference professionals, sharing tips and expertise to hone their reference and web research skills. Comments from a recent staff survey include:

“I find doing 'Enquire' duty an enjoyable part of my job and it enables me to actually use my librarian skills…It helps me keep my enquiry handling and internet searching skills alive.”

“I found going through the transcripts very useful and I hope to use them as a training tool for my team.”

Sustaining a supporting environment for information seekers

John Dolan, Head of Library Policy at MLA said:
“I’m keen to see the People’s Network web site expand into a single gateway for all public library resources in the country, where people can go for reference material, information and enquiries, to participate in reading groups and access books: What then has to be sustained is the public service provision, which allows the widest section of the population to access that material in a supported environment. The Enquire service delivers that support.”

It’s not too late to join

In the face of increasing competition from commercial answer services on the open Web, libraries must raise their profile through collaborative action to gain the attention of information seekers in the digital environment.

Going forward, there is potential for service expansion beyond England to include library authorities from across the UK, with the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen having already signed up.

Library authorities who are not yet participating and would like to join Enquire should contact Mike Thornton at OCLC PICA (m.thornton@oclcpica.org).


Note to editors

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and the nine regional agencies work in partnership to provide strategic direction and leadership for museums, libraries and archives across England. Together we work to improve people’s lives by building knowledge, supporting learning, inspiring creativity and celebrating identity. The Partnership acts collectively for the benefit of the sector and the public, leading the transformation of museums, libraries and archives for the future. Visit: www.mla.gov.uk

OCLC PICA is a European library cooperative offering a broad range of leading edge, high-tech solutions for professionals and end users of academic and public libraries, information centres from the government and health sector, museums, archives and other cultural institutions. Thousands of patrons daily rely on OCLC PICA systems and services for efficient cataloguing, library management, retrieval, resource sharing, portals and preservation. OCLC PICA participates in a large number of important standardisation platforms to make sure its users’ interests are best represented.

OCLC PICA B.V. has two share holders: OCLC Inc. and Stichting Pica. OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. (est. 1967) is a not-for-profit organisation and offers its services to 54,000 libraries worldwide. Stichting Pica (est. 1969) is a foundation that promotes and encourages the scientific and public information service in the Netherlands. From its head office in Leiden and regional offices in Oberhaching, Sheffield, Birmingham, Paris, Kansas and Footscray, OCLC PICA provides solutions developed in Leiden, Oberhaching and Sheffield. It also represents the OCLC services in Europe, Turkey, Israel and Southern Africa. More information about OCLC PICA can be found at www.oclcpica.org.

Company: OCLC PICA

Contact Name: Mike Thornton

Contact Email: m.thornton@oclcpica.org

Contact Phone: 0121-456 46 56

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