Standing alongside phone, email, and in-person reference services, AskAway chat reference has become a core mode of service delivery for post-secondary libraries in British Columbia. Through collaboration, cost-sharing, and coordination of existing infrastructure and resources, AskAway has proven to provide a service far beyond what any individual institution could offer on its own.
This robust service can only continue to be as healthy as its partners. The following information is intended to ensure that the service remains strong and balanced amongst the participating libraries within a commitment that runs the entire 12 month academic calendar.
Section 1: Benefits
AskAway benefits its participating libraries on many levels from those experienced by the student, to the individual library, and beyond to the post-secondary sector.
1A. Benefits for Learners, Educators, and Researchers
AskAway is an essential service that extends equitable access to quality information to thousands of post-secondary learners at their point of need.
- ~220 staff hours weekly of real-time chat-based reference services
- Visibility of other library services through referrals
- Reaching new users and bringing them into the library
- Supporting learner preferences for online learning
- Expanding service delivery options for distance students
- Expanding reference service beyond the limitations of library building hours and traditional hours of service
- Facilitating library services integration into online learning systems
1B. Financial Benefits for Participating Libraries
BC ELN coordination of the AskAway service saves BC post-secondary libraries both time and money allowing participating libraries to deliver superior library services in the most efficient way possible. Financial benefits include:
- Cost-savings in staff time; shared staffing means each library staffs from 3-34 hours per week, in return for ~220 staff hours of reference service per week
- Cost-savings through group purchase of software and marketing materials
- Thousands of hours of staff time saved by obviating the need for each library to schedule, train, market, and coordinate their own virtual reference service
1C. Operational Benefits For Participating Libraries
Libraries receive additional benefits associated with BC ELN coordination of the AskAway service by allowing them to provide a service that they could never offer independently.
- Access to the BC ELN communications infrastructure for planning purposes, budgeting, and managing change
- Ongoing training and technical support for AskAway virtual reference software
- Participation in advocacy, lobbying, leadership, and collaborative efforts as taken on by BC ELN
- Participation in the governance structure which shapes and steers the service
- Risk avoidance in the event of a disaster by maintaining access to reference service if on-campus service is compromised
Section 2: Participating Library Requirements and Responsibilities
The following library requirements and responsibilities apply for the entire AskAway year, from September through August.
AskAway participating libraries must:
- Be a BC ELN Partner Library, meeting membership requirements for BC ELN Partner Libraries as set out at <http://www.eln.bc.ca/view.php?id=1816>
- Provide appropriate staffing to the AskAway service as set out at in the current Library Commitment Model <http://askaway.org/staff/library-commitment-models>
- Provide a yearly AskAway Service Support fee as determined by the Advisory Committee and set out in the current AskAway cost-sharing model found at <http://askaway.org/staff/service-support-fees>
- Have adequate electronic resources available for learners and AskAway service providers to facilitate the online reference experience
- Ensure the library's website is readily accessible for the institution's own learners and for AskAway service providers
- Have an online library catalogue accessible to off-site users and AskAway service providers
- Have on-site reference available so that AskAway supplements existing services
Section 3: Remedies for Institutions Facing Service Challenges
By participating in AskAway (i.e. placing links to AskAway on library website and staffing AskAway), libraries are understood to have read and agreed to the above responsibilities. While full participation is always the preference, it is understood that periodically a partner library may face staff and financial challenges that impinge their ability to fully meet their service requirements.
3A. Short Term Staffing Shortfalls
In cases of acute, short term staffing issues, institutions should contact the AskAway Administrative Centre. The AskAway Advisory Committee will consider and present suitable remedies. A number of options could be made available to institutions:
- Request a short term release from their commitment for one instance of an AskAway term in order to work towards resolving the staffing shortage
- Provide compensation instead of staff hours, but this is not a long term alternative to staffing the service. Details of compensation would depend on the particular situation
- Work with another institution(s) to trade shifts between AskAway terms (i.e. Institution A takes on some number of shifts for Institution B during the summer, and Institution B takes on the same number of shifts for Institution A during the fall)
- Work with the AskAway Administrative Centre to schedule their quota of hours across the year, rather than on a term by term case (i.e. library must contribute 185 for the year which may be less in one term, balanced by more in the other two terms)
3B. Short Term Financial Shortfalls
In cases of short-term financial challenges, institutions should contact the AskAway Administrative Centre. The AskAway Advisory Committee will consider and present suitable remedies. A number of options could be made available to institutions:
- An exemption period of one (1) year would be offered to institutions in order to stabilize internal funding to achieve full participation the following year.
- An exemption from the service fee would be offered with corresponding compensation set out in staff hours for the library to fill in exchange. These hours would be where they are available and required by the service.
3C. Long Term Staffing or Financial Shortfalls
Institutions facing chronic staffing or financial issues that cannot be resolved under sections 3A or 3B should then remove themselves from the service. This includes:
- Removing all links from institutional websites
- Removing all marketing of the service to their community
- Having their institutional link removed from the Askaway.org
If a library achieves staffing and financial stability, they are welcome to return to the service.