OCLC has implemented a pilot project within the Open WorldCat program that allows Web searchers to submit questions to librarians through online reference services of OCLC member libraries.
… Once a searcher enters a postal code or other geographic identifier and receives Open WorldCat results listing nearby libraries that hold the item they’re looking for, those libraries that offer online reference service display a question-mark icon. Clicking the icon connects the searcher to that library’s Web form where they can submit a reference question.
All libraries using QuestionPoint are included in the results, natch. In a fairly open-minded turn, “approximately 150 other libraries that run virtual reference desks on other platforms” are also included, and more will be included if the project continues past the pilot.
I’m curious about several things here, & I’m hoping that OCLC will make some stats available when they have some:
- What this will do to traffic patterns? That is, will libraries see more questions coming in from users outside of their primary communities? Sure, users & libraries will be matched by geography, but what if you don’t have a QP-using library near you, will you be pointed to the nearest one, even if it’s counties away?
- What will this do to the types of questions received by services? Users who even look at Open WorldCat results are, I would suspect, self-selecting: they’re those users that for whatever reason (and what are those reasons?) actually want book titles or whatnot. So will those users have different types of questions than users who come to a dig ref service not through Open WorldCat?
- What sorts of resources will be provided by librarians to these users? If OCLC tracks question types & resources in answers, what can we learn about what sort of library resources users want and/or find useful, who come to a dig ref service via Open WorldCat?