What do Lands' End, New Balance and the MIT Libraries have in common? The libraries don't sell fleece pullovers or sneakers, but they do offer live online customer service.
Click the "Ask Us!" button from the "Research Help" box or the "Quick Links" pulldown menu on the Libraries' web pages, and a librarian will assist you, using chat (the librarian and you type messages to each other) and co-browsing (the librarian and you share web pages). If you have a separate telephone line, you can talk on the phone while the librarian sends web pages to your browser. The service is also linked to the Libraries' home page .
With the increase in bibliographic databases, full-text journals and high-quality web sites for delivering information online, many of the libraries' biggest users never come through the door. To continue to offer specialized research assistance to those using the libraries' online resources, the MIT Libraries launched the pilot Ask Us!--Live service as a pilot program from January to August 2001. At the time, it was one of only a handful of library services in the country to try this new form of research assistance.
The Libraries are now offering the service from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday during the spring semester.
The Ask Us! button brings you not only to the Ask Us!--Live service, but also to e-mail help available 24 hours a day. Users' e-mail is answered by 5 p.m. on the next business day, and often much sooner. For in-depth help, the Ask Us! page also offers a link to a research consultation form to arrange for a personal consultation with any of the 60 subject specialists in the MIT Libraries.
Response to the chat service has been overwhelmingly positive. Comments have ranged from "pretty impressive" to "way cool" to "fantastic!" The next time you need help finding a conference proceeding, ordering something that MIT doesn't own, tracking down an article from a footnote, or learning about the best database to use for a search, try clicking on the "Ask Us!" button.
For further details, click here.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 27, 2002.