Library opens 24-hour Internet reference desk

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2001

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Cleveland Public Library has opened a 24-hour reference desk that allows people in a nine-county region to chat with a reference librarian via the Internet.

''We are pioneers here, out there seeing if this can be successful,'' said Tracy Strobel, the library's Web site coordinator.

Libraries have responded to research queries via e-mail in recent years, but the Cleveland system goes a step further by allowing a user to interact with a research librarian through Internet instant messages.

In the Web site's debut Monday, the site received a dozen queries ranging from the original source of the quote about youth being wasted on the young -- it was George Bernard Shaw -- to a more challenging question about how gasoline prices are determined.

The service provides a way to reach out to new clients at a time when people aren't coming to the library as much, Strobel said.

''We're out there trying to become a staple in people's lives again,'' Strobel said.

Strobel said library staff will find answers to questions by using Internet search engines, printed material in the library and 135 research databases that are not available to the public. After 9 p.m., questions are fielded by a reference center in Maryland that the library has on contract.

Catherine Friedman of the American Library Association said Cleveland is at the forefront of providing real-time digital reference service.

''This is the next wave of reference service support ... real-time as you need it instead of, 'Please meet our hours and we can help you,''' Friedman said.

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