Wednesday, July 25, 2007

County’s Ask-a-Librarian service celebrates 25 years

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When Montgomery County Public Libraries started the Ask-a-Librarian service in 1982, there was an increase in public demand for library services.

Within five months, the librarians were receiving about 2,700 calls per month. As the Ask-a-Librarian service celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, library officials report that between May of last year and May of this year, Ask-a-Librarian staff answered 45,292 phone calls.

The service was modeled after the program at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

‘‘It’s a one-stop telephone call to get reference service needed,” Kris Tuckerman, Rockville Library associate, said.

The Ask-a-Librarian service is intended to answer questions about the library, its databases, book reservations and holds, and to get help with further research. However, library staff members also get other questions, Tuckerman said, such as whether the American flag flown over the White House indicates whether the president is at home.

‘‘No,” Tuckerman said.” By presidential proclamation in 1970, it flies 24 hours a day.”

Tuckerman is one of two original Ask-a-Librarian operators since 1982. She said one of the biggest changes in the 25 years since the program started was the advent of the Internet.

The number of trivia questions has decreased in recent years, she said, because most people can search for the answers easily on the Web.

‘‘People can Google the seven dwarfs, but they don’t always have luck searching more detailed topics,” and Ask-a-Librarian becomes the last resort, Tuckerman said.

‘‘We get more hardcore questions now,” she added.

They also aid people in searching through the library’s databases for virtually any topic.

‘‘Name a topic, we have a database on it,” Tuckerman said.

In recent years, the Ask-a-Librarian service has expanded to respond to questions by e-mail and live online chats.

AskUsNow! is a live interactive chat that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for anyone who has questions for local librarians in Montgomery County or anywhere in the United States. The program is provided by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education.

‘‘To this dedicated staff and all the others who have worked in the unit over the years, I say ‘thank you’ for the outstanding services provided to your customers,” said Parker Hamilton, director of Montgomery County Public Libraries.