Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thing 58. Chat Reference: AskMN

Sometimes a Google search or a ChaCha inquiry simply does not provide the in-depth, quality information that you need. Or maybe you just don’t know how to formulate an effective search strategy and could use a little professional help. And then, sometimes, it is Sunday evening, the library is closed, the assignment is due…. AskMN is there to help. Anyone with a reference question or doing research, who is comfortable with instant messaging and chat, will love the 24/7 services of AskMN. And if you are not familiar with using chat, this is an easy introduction.

AskMN is an online, interactive chat service that allows you to chat with a librarian in real time. The librarian is available to answer your questions and to direct you to various websites. This information and research help is available to Minnesota residents and students 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When Minnesota librarians are not available, there are librarians in other parts of the worldwide network to come to your aid.

The process is very quick and easy. You provide your email address, first name, zip code and your question. When you “Connect” a chat box opens and you are able to chat directly with a librarian. Further chat, co-browsing, referral to sites -- it is all right there on your screen. Sessions generally last from 5-20 minutes. The librarian will be able to refer you to print and local resources and to Internet sites, as well as subject specialists who may not be available during the live session.
When all is done, you will be sent a transcript of your session so you can easily return to sites or resources that came up during the session. It is pretty cool -- and very useful.

AskMN also welcomes classes. Teachers and school librarians can use a special form to alert AskMN when you will be visiting, your topic/assignment, and how to conduct a class visit. AskMN staff will be prepared for the demand and will make resources available on your students’ subject matter so that all students collect similar information. This is very cool.

AskMN is brought to us by Minitex and participating Minnesota libraries (currently 6 public libraries and 7 academic libraries). Try it out  -- you’ll find it is an amazing service.

By Ruth Solie, Northern Lights Library Network

Thing 57. ChaCha: Mobile Answer Service

Almost all of us have cell phones and we all have questions -- important questions, trivial questions, situational questions, directional questions, bar bets, and questions that result from idle speculation. Often we need information quickly, and while we’re on the go. For a quick and easy way to get answers to these questions, ask ChaCha!

ChaCha is like having a smart friend you can call or text for answers on your cell phone anytime for free! ChaCha works with virtually every provider and allows people with any mobile phone device - from basic flip phones to advanced smart phones - to ask any question in conversational English and receive an accurate answer as a text message in just a few minutes.

What’s your question?
 Simply text your question to 242242 (spells ‘ChaCha’) or call 1-800-2ChaCha (800-224-2242) from your mobile phone to ask any question.

You will get an immediate response from ChaCha that your question is being processed -- and there will be an ad (which is what makes ChaCha free to you). Within a few minutes -- but often less than 30 seconds -- you will receive an answer to your question as a text message.

Behind ChaCha answers are Human Guides (over 50,000 of them) who actually respond to your query. And behind those Human Guides are librarians when questions get really tough. Questions/answers are retained in a ChaCha database which you can access via their website.  ChaCha reaches over 15 million unique users per month who are primarily teens and young adults, but many of us older folks rely on it as well.

Try it! It is much easier to use ChaCha than to read about it, so simply call 800-224-2242 or send a text to 242242 with your questions from your mobile phone and take ChaCha for a spin!

If you are interested, there is more you can do at the website: you can become a Human Guide (for pay), you can follow @chacha on Twitter, or find them on Facebook, explore their Q/A database, or look at their business model, but the best part of ChaCha is the simplicity, the immediacy, and the convenience of having questions answered on the go, for free!
by Ruth Solie, Northern Lights Library Network