On the 24/7 Chat—Providing Reference Online

I have joined the community of librarians at Lehman who provide reference through the 24/7 Chat service. I like to think of this service as a virtual reference desk that never closes. On 24/7 Chat students pose questions online and librarians help students learn how to find responses to their questions. Inquiries come from Lehman students, from CUNY students, and from students all over the country and the world and they can be about library policy and procedures (“How do I put a book on hold?”) or they can be research questions (“I’m looking for the best articles in English on Renaissance Literature”). I’ve heard reference once described as a “mind contact sport.” I agree. Helping people learn how to find answers to their questions makes me feel as if my mind is expanding because with each question I feel that I learn something new. 24/7 Chat reference is especially enjoyable when the questions require extensive sleuthing.         

24/7 Chat provides an opportunity for individual teaching. I hope that when a student leaves a chat with me they feel that they have a better understanding about how to do research. In 24/7 Chat the instruction happens in very small bits of conversation.

 “You mentioned that your paper was on Hellenistic Greece.” “Yes.” “Have you tried many resources?” “No, I’m just getting started.” “The Gale Virtual Reference Library, a database filled with encyclopedias on all topics, might be a great place to begin. The articles in this database will help you get a big picture of your topic” “Sounds good.” “Here is the link. Let me know when you are in.” “I’m in.” “You search on your computer and I’ll search on mine. You can do a basic search of all of the encyclopedias and reference books in this database.” “Sounds good. Let’s do it.” “What keywords would you like to enter in the search box?” “Hellenistic Greece.” “OK, let’s give that a try and see what comes up.” “I see an article on Hellenistic Greece at the top of the list.” “Wonderful. That article can help get you started.”

“You can also take a look at the references in the article to see if there are books or journal articles that would help you.” “OK—I think that this article is going to give me a good overview.” “Once you have a big picture of your topic, you can go to journal databases to explore different aspects of your topic and to find current scholarship.” “Thanks.” “Do you think that you have enough information to begin?” “Yes, I’m good.” “You can always come back to 24/7 Chat if you have any more questions. Good luck with your paper.” “Thanks, again.”

Members of the Lehman community can ask questions in 24/7 Chat here: http://www.lehman.edu/library/ask-us.php

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