AskAway Tips: Student Edition

By Ishvani Hans, UBC AskAway Student Librarian

I’ve been working as an AskAway student librarian for over a year now. Having engaged with a diverse range of patrons and addressing their queries, I have identified recurring themes of problems. If you’re new to AskAway, you may find these tips helpful:

Don't let time pressure from patrons get to you

Sometimes (usually when you’re not answering multiple chats), you may respond to a patron query almost immediately. In most cases, patrons will be delighted by your response rate but in other cases, it can backfire. An initial speedy response rate can sometimes lead to misplaced expectations, where the patron thinks that each of their query warrants a quick reply.

I’ve personally faced this situation multiple times where I start receiving “???” from patrons if I don’t answer each of their questions promptly. If this happens, make it clear to the patron that you’re a human behind the screen and not a bot. Tell them to practice patience but also reassure them that you’re working on their query.

A sample from a chat transcript

Help the patron become self-sufficient

When a patron comes to you with a query that can be tagged as ready reference or research, instead of straightaway providing them with resources or instructions, try to be curious about their information retrieval process and understand why they need your help in the first place. This might help you come up with a solution that not just solves their current query but also eliminates their future dependence on you to conduct information retrieval for them.

Don't limit yourself to the library search page

Sometimes, a patron may ask you to find a resource that they’re unable to locate on the library search page. Try to redirect them to research guides and subject specific databases. However, sometimes it may just be the case that the resource is not available with the library. Sometimes the resource may also not be retrieved due to a technical error. Whatever the case may be, searching for the resource on an external search engine for academic resources such as Google Scholar may prove to be helpful. Many resources on such search engines are also open-access which some patrons may benefit from.

Use your discretion and remember the scope of your work

Patrons will sometimes ask you for writing or citation help. The nature of their query can range from proofreading an essay to structuring a sentence. Remember that the scope of your work is limited to helping them find resources that they can use on their own. However, in rare cases, it might be better (and also time-saving for you) to address the patron’s own citation query instead of providing them with an example to compare it to. As a student librarian, use your discretion in every situation and help the patron accordingly.


I have made a canned-message now for the writing help: "My apologies, I am unable to validate your work, please consult your writing center or equivalent".
Thanks Ishvani for an insightful read!