Digital Versus Non-Digital Reference: Ask a Librarian Online and Offline

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Compare and contrast library reference models and more consumer-oriented models!

Digital versus Non-Digital Reference: Ask A Librarian Online and Offline analyzes the quality of commercial Ask A Librarian (AskA) and tutorial services and how they compare to traditional library services. Edited by Jessamyn West—proprietor of and the “hippest ex-librarian on the Web” according to Wired magazine—the book looks at library models and more consumer-oriented models, examining a variety of services that range from Ask Jeeves® and Google Answers™ to your own reference desk and Web e-mail reference forms. Academic librarians and information specialists share their experiences—good and bad—in starting, assessing, or ending AskA services and in working with collaborative reference tools and outsourcing reference services, and discuss the highs and lows of dealing with individual online services.

Digital versus Non-Digital Reference: Ask A Librarian Online and Offline chronicles the experiences and interactions of librarians with digital reference, including case studies, how-to guides, and philosophical essays. The book’s contributors discuss their concerns about using the Internet as not only a reference tool but as a reference medium that most libraries find inevitable to some degree. Topics include the political ramifications of offsite or outsourced reference, the truth behind the assertion that “it’s all available online,” cultural and/or language barriers to text-based reference services, and patrons’ experiences with reference tools, from a librarian’s perspective.

Digital versus Non-Digital Reference: Ask A Librarian Online and Offline addresses:

  • policy, staffing and technology for telephone reference services
  • e-mail reference in public libraries
  • the University of Michigan’s Internet Public Library
  • archivists and remote users in the digital age
  • success and failure with commercial AskA programs
  • the history of Q and A NJ, New Jersey’s virtual reference service
  • multilingual chat reference systems
  • the ongoing debate over the value of digital reference
  • the case for nonintrusive reference
Digital versus Non-Digital Reference: Ask A Librarian Online and Offline is an invaluable resource for practitioners and academics on the appropriate assessment, technologies, and methods for successfully creating and operating human-mediated, Internet-based information services.
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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Barbara B. Adams, MLS (Duquesne University)
Description: Eleven essays discuss email (asynchronous) as well as real-time (synchronous) digital reference, and compare and contrast digital reference (aka virtual, online, electronic, AskA, 24/7 or chat reference) with traditional reference service (primarily in person or telephone).
Purpose: In a collection of such broad scope and diversity, many will find something of interest, fulfilling the editor's modest stated objective of offering ideas of potential help to librarians in their own libraries. The book as a whole can assist critical thinking about the purposes, means, and human impacts of digital reference.
Audience: The book's primary audience consists of librarians in any library or library system in which digital reference is under consideration or already in use. Students of librarianship could also benefit from its perspectives. The editor, a librarian with an alternative, highly visible Web presence at, is an activist willing to ask questions of the profession. In this book, she has gathered essays from practicing librarians in a variety of libraries and reference environments in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, including consortia and other collaborative reference services.
Features: Each essay contributes to one of three thematic sections: reference old and new; how-we-do-it; and philosophical questions. In the specific reference situations described, one can find the unusual, such as the use of multilingual chat with Chinese characters at a suburban American library. However, the book's real uniqueness is the reflective approach taken throughout. It concludes with a pair of especially strong essays drawing attention to the social contexts of digital reference, and the need for special considerations in the conduct of research on digital reference behavior.
Assessment: This book does not emphasize statistics, procedures or implementation details, now available in numerous sources. It is instead a provocative exploration of some important questions about digital reference service and the lives of its users and librarians.

4 Stars! from Doody
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Product Details

Table of Contents

  • Preface (Jessamyn West)
  • Have(n’t) We Been Here Before? Lessons from Telephone Reference (M. Kathleen Kern)
  • E-Mail Reference as Substitute for Library Receptionist (Susan M. Braxton and Maureen Brunsdale)
  • The Internet Public Library as a Teaching Tool for Shockingly Traditional Reference Skills (Abigail Leah Plumb)
  • “Contact Us”: Archivists and Remote Users in the Digital Age (Katharine A. Salzmann)
  • Characteristics of E-Mail Reference Services in Selected Public Libraries, Victoria, Australia (Doreen Sullivan)
  • Predicting the Success of Commercial AskA Services in the United States and Abroad (Jenny Baum and Kate Lyons)
  • Wired New Jersey: Q and A NJ (Carol Van Houten)
  • Library LAWLINE: Collaborative Virtual Reference in a Special Library Consortium (Scott Matheson)
  • Planning for Multilingual Chat Reference in a Suburban Public Library System (Edana McCaffery Cichanowicz and Nan Chen)
  • The Social Life of Digital Reference: What the Technology Affords (Mita Sen-Roy)
  • The Case for Non-Intrusive Research: A Virtual Reference Librarian’s Perspective (Bruce Jensen)
  • Index
  • Reference Notes Included
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