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AJCU Virtual Reference Project

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on December 8, 2015 at 9:07:40 pm

AJCU Virtual Reference Project

Service Policies and Guidelines


Participating Libraries 

AJCU VR Coordinator Contacts List


Mission Statement
Quality Control
Service Overview
Communication Channels
Service Philosophy
Privacy Policies 
Users Served
Use Policy
Service and Performance Standards
Consortium Governance
Database Access Policy
Commitments of Participating Institutions
Organizational Guidelines

I. Mission Statement:

The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) Virtual Reference Project is committed to providing high quality online reference service to students, faculty, and staff of all the participating Jesuit institutions.


II. Service Overview


The AJCU Virtual Reference Project provides online reference help to the primary clientele of the participating Jesuit institutions 24 hours a day, seven days a week, excluding certain federal holidays. The collaborative virtual reference model allows the institutions involved to extend standard hours of operation by distributing the staffing of the service across multiple libraries and multiple time zones.


The service uses the LibraryH3lp software platform (hereafter ‘third-party software platform’) which allows the librarian to chat with users. The service is cooperatively staffed by AJCU librarians generally Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 8 pm (in all time zones) during the fall and spring academic semesters. At other times, questions are answered by librarians hired by Chatstaff, our contracted back-up/24-7 librarian staffing service (hereafter ‘third-party staffing service’).


Each participating Jesuit institution is required to contribute a certain number of librarian hours which is determined by its full-time enrollment (FTE).


III. Service Philosophy


The AJCU Virtual Reference Project provides another method of delivering reference and research services to the users of the participating Jesuit institutions. This additional way of providing research support enhances the service philosophy of academic libraries, which includes the development of information literacy in researchers. During online sessions with users, librarians should emphasize teaching and learning over simply providing information.


IV. Users Served

The service is available to current students, faculty, and staff of the participating Jesuit institutions without restrictions. When a non-affiliated user accesses the service, the librarian may point the user to freely available web based resources, or may refer the user to a local public institution. Proprietary databases should not be used to aid unaffiliated patrons.


V. Service and Performance Standards


1) Scope of service

Each library must contribute a certain number of hours to the AJCU Virtual Reference Project, determined by its institution’s full-time enrollment (FTE). During these assigned shifts, the librarian online will answer questions from all participating libraries.


There is no time limit for answering a question. If a question requires more than 15 minutes, referral to a local librarian may be more efficient. In general, librarians should aim to balance offering timely research support to the patron while also making sure the patron receives help from the most appropriate librarian for their need.


The librarian on duty is not required to answer more than one question at a time. In the third-party software platform, the librarian has the ability to set their status to “Busy” once they are assisting a patron, which will result in any new chat query going to another AJCU librarian on duty or to a librarian from the third-party staffing service. Librarians are encouraged to take advantage of the service rollover provided by the “Busy” status function.


2) Types of questions answered

The types of questions that will be answered may include:

  • A specific piece of information (examples: a fact, a date, spelling of a name) or verifying citations.

  • Suggestions for appropriate electronic or print resources to help find information for a project or research paper.

  • Help in constructing a research question and search strategy.

  • Assistance in the use of electronic resources and the systems through which they are accessed.

For in-depth reference questions or if detailed research assistance is needed, the librarian on duty can choose to follow up by email or can refer the question to a librarian from the patron’s host institution using the “Tag for Follow up” feature in the third-party software platform.


The service is designed to answer research-related questions, but general circulation or directional questions may be answered using the institutional profiles filled out by each library and securely housed within the third-party software platform.


3) Reference practices

As a general rule, the reference service provided in an online environment should:


  • Be of the same quality as in-person reference service (e.g., conducting a quick reference interview, using reliable/quality resources, etc.).

  • Focus on online resources as this is a virtual service (online catalogs, databases, electronic journals, ebooks, online reference books, and appropriate web pages).

  • Make use of databases and resources available at the patron’s host institution. Patrons should be asked to authenticate to access any proprietary databases.

Please see our Best Practices Guidelines for more information about how we provide research and reference service through the AJCU Virtual Reference Project.


4) Follow Up/Referral Procedures

Librarians on duty should try to answer each question to the best of their abilities. If they determine that a question would be better answered by a local librarian, they can refer the question to the patron’s host institution using the “Tag for Follow up” feature in the third-party software platform. In certain cases, the librarian can negotiate with the patron to continue the transaction by email if necessary. The AJCU Virtual Reference Project doesn’t include faxing, photocopying, or mailing materials for patrons.

VI. Database Access Policy


It is important that librarians adhere to the licensing agreements for any electronic resources and databases used. As a general rule, the librarian on duty should use the databases and electronic resources available at the user’s host institution and ask the user to authenticate before access is granted. The librarian can then instruct the patron in the use of the databases. Librarians on duty should only facilitate access to databases that are accessible via the user’s host institutions.


Each institution will aim to provide a username and password to access their databases that will be securely available to librarians from the third-party staffing service and AJCU librarians.


VII. Scheduling


Before the beginning of each academic year, a schedule will be created using scheduling software (currently WhenToWork.com). Each institution will sign up for a required number of shifts. The scheduling coordinator will make sure that all shifts are covered and will resolve conflicts. Every effort will be made to accommodate individual institutions’ preferences.


If an institution is unable to staff the service at its regular scheduled time, its coordinator should first request a shift trade through the scheduling software and the discussion list. The discussion list should be notified if a trade is not possible.


VIII. Quality Control


Providing virtual reference service in a consortial environment means that librarians staffing the service answer questions for patrons from institutions other than their own. This means they will be using online resources they might not be familiar with. In order to maintain the highest standards of quality, all library staff involved need to familiarize themselves with the institutional profiles and the electronic resources of the participating institutions.


The coordinators at each institution are responsible for keeping their institutional profiles up-to-date. If a library has a change in policy or any other changes that could affect the virtual reference service, coordinators are responsible for updating their profiles in a timely manner. In the event of a systems outage at a coordinator’s library, the coordinator should notify consortium members via the discussion list at their earliest convenience.

If out of date information, broken links, etc. are found in institutional profiles, each coordinator should directly follow up with that institution’s coordinator.


Individual coordinators are also responsible for reviewing the transcripts involving their patrons and their librarians. They may decide to follow up by email with the quality control coordinator if the service given to their patrons was not adequate. The quality control coordinator will then pass that information along to the appropriate local coordinator, or to the representative at the third-party staffing service. It is recommended that the transcripts (or a sample of the transcripts) be reviewed at regular intervals.


IX. Communication Channels


Ongoing communication is critical to ensure the success of the AJCU Virtual Reference Project in a consortial environment. The coordinators at each institution should be subscribed to the AJCU Virtual Reference discussion list and use it to ask questions, discuss issues with their colleagues, and provide needed information about their libraries. This list is also used to request shift trades and drops, and to receive reminders. The librarians involved in providing virtual reference for the consortium at each institution are also welcome to join this discussion list, but it is not required. It is the responsibility of the coordinator at each library to pass pertinent information and announcements along to their librarians who staff the service.

Other communication channels for the consortium include the public and private (password-protected) wikis as well as direct email communication between the coordinators. The communications coordinator is responsible for adding and orienting new coordinators to the communications channels.

X. Privacy Policies


Institutions have the option of posting on their websites a privacy policy, which explains to the patron what personal information is collected by the service and what is done with this information. This information has been provided by both third-party vendors and is summarized below, and can be adapted as part of an institution’s posted privacy policy:

Third-party software platform (LibraryH3lp):

When the patron initiates the service through a LibraryH3lp chat widget, information that is collected includes:


1. Timestamp of transaction, queue name, and name of operator who answers the chat: none of these data points are associated with patron identity
2. Randomly-generated, anonymous guest ID: this provides a consistent guest identity across multiple chats in the same browser, until the browser clears cache, and helps with continuity in the conversation in widget-style chats, where the guest may hop around and chat more than once over the course of their current research project
3. IP address
4. Referring URL: this is the URL of the web page where the chat widget is located
5. Transcript of the conversation itself: for the purposes of quality control of the virtual reference service

This data is stored until it is deliberately deleted. Individual libraries are free to set up and implement their own data retention policies.

This data can be removed at the library’s request in a few different ways:

      • Delete transcript while leaving the rest of the chat metadata for reporting.  

      • Anonymize: this deletes transcripts and removes IP addresses from widget chats. Since the guest ID is already anonymous, it does not do anything with it. This option also leaves the rest of the chat metadata for reporting.

      • Delete the entire record of the chat: this deletes the transcript and all of the chat metadata, leaving nothing for reports.

Third-party staffing service (Chatstaff):

Chatstaff Privacy Policies

Use of Transcripts

Transcripts are only used for evaluation (staff reviews, overall look at library’s traffic, keyword analysis, etc.) and training. In cases of training, all transcripts are anonymized of all identifying information (names, email addresses, IP addresses, location). Exceptions are made for properly executed legal orders as detailed in: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy

Retention of transcripts is entirely up to the library and is managed via LibraryH3lp’s software. Chatstaff does not retain any transcripts outside of this. LibraryH3lp’s software requires that libraries actively change the default setting in order for transcripts to be retained.

Emergency and Crisis Procedures

We do not require, nor do we forbid, librarians from contacting 911 or law enforcement during or after a session. Our preference is to contact the patron’s library to allow them to make the decision whenever possible.

Use of Policy Information

Policy information, including authentication information, is only used when (1) handling a patron from that library and (2) for training in resources at that library. Librarians are never allowed under any circumstance to use one library’s resources to help a patron identified as not from that library. Librarians are never allowed to share policy information or use it for personal purposes.

Policy information can be edited, deleted or otherwise controlled by libraries at all times via the LibraryH3lp admin module.

ALA Privacy Policies

We strive to be consistent with ALA’s Privacy Policies and are proud of the history and practice of maintaining the rights of patrons as detailed here: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy


XI. Use Policy

Each institution is encouraged to post on their website a use policy for the service stating who can use the service and what kind of questions are appropriate.


XII. Consortium Governance

The AJCU Virtual Reference Project reports to the AJCU Library Deans and Directors group. Each participating institution has a coordinator who represents their library within the consortium. The Virtual Reference Project is led by a steering committee that serves voluntarily and is elected annually at the Virtual Reference Project Annual Coordinators’ Meeting. The steering committee liaises between the coordinators, the Library Deans and Directors group, and our third-party vendors to ensure the needs of all stakeholders are being met. Please see XIV. Organizational Guidelines for more information about the structure and governance of the consortium.

XIII. Commitments of Participating Institutions


-Staffing: each institution is responsible for staffing the number of hours agreed upon with professional librarians who have been trained in the use of the software.


-Initial training will be provided by Tutor.com, but individual institutions will then be responsible for training new staff members, and keeping their staff current on changes in the service and the software.


-Policy Page: each institution is responsible for creating and keeping up to date a library policy page providing information such as hours, circulation policies, reference email contact, list of databases, list of electronic journals, etc.


-Review of Transcripts: To ensure high quality standards, the coordinator of the service at each institution will be responsible for reviewing transcripts (or a sample of transcripts) involving their students and their librarians. This review should be done weekly, so that there could be follow-up if a question was not answered properly. (see section on quality control)


-Access and marketing: Each institution is responsible for providing access to the service through their library home page or other media, and to market the service to its community. The AJCU consortium will be providing guidelines to help market the service.


-Annual report and statistics: each institution is responsible for writing an annual report using the statistics and reports provided by the software and detailing the problems and successes of the service at their university. These reports will be used by the consortium to improve service


XIV. Organizational Guidelines


Article 1 – Name and Authority

The name of the organization shall be the AJCU Virtual Reference Service (hereinafter referred to as AJCU VR). AJCU VR is created and organized as an agreement among AJCU libraries to offer virtual reference services to their patrons.


Article 2 – Purpose and Mission

The AJCU Virtual Reference Service provides online reference help to the primary clientele of the participating Jesuit institutions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The collaborative virtual reference model will allow the institutions involved to extend standard hours of operation by distributing the staffing of the service across multiple libraries and multiple time zones.


The AJCU Virtual Reference Service is committed to providing high quality online reference service to students, faculty, and staff of all the participating Jesuit institutions.


Article 3 – Membership

Membership shall be open to any of the 28 members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.


Article 4 – Meetings

An annual meeting of the local coordinators will be held at member libraries, on a rotating basis. The Steering Committee will meet twice a year (virtually or in person), before and after each meeting of the local coordinators. The Steering Committee will also meet at other times as deemed necessary by the Chair or Co-Chair.


Article 5 – Steering Committee 

All official business of the AJCU VR service shall be conducted by the AJCU Steering Committee with guidance from the general membership.

The Steering Committee will consist of six members, each serving a two-year term. Steering Committee membership is staggered so that two new members will be selected every year. Selection of new steering committee members will take place at the Annual Meeting.


The Steering Committee members will be charged with various administrative tasks including: scheduling, training, evaluation, policies and procedures, marketing and quality control.


Any Steering Committee member who needs to resign while their institution is still a member of the AJCU shall do so in writing.


Article 6 – Hours of Operation

AJCU librarians will answer chat requests from 9am to 9pm in all time zones, following the schedule created each April. The schedule will be revised once each academic year. 


Librarians by Request, contracted through Tutor.com, will cover Midnight until 9am (ET) daily, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Easter Sunday, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day. They will also cover June 15 through August 15th. Other coverage will be negotiated as required.


The service will be closed on New Years Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas.


Article 7 - Amendments

These guidelines, except as otherwise specified in this document, may be amended at any meeting of the AJCU Virtual Reference Service Coordinators, providing a copy of the proposed amendment was sent out at least one month prior to the meeting. These guidelines will be reviewed every two years, beginning in the year 2008.


2006-2007 Steering Committee

Locke Morrisey, Chair (USF)

Helene Lafrance (Santa Clara)

Patty Porcaro (Holy Cross)

Erin McCaffrey (Regis)

Clara Hudson (Univ. of Scranton)

Sachi Yagyu (Loyola Marymount)




Service Policies and Guidelines Last Updated 8/26/2009


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