mhsls chat: Ask A Librarian in Real Time

It’s Tuesday morning. An HSLS patron has carved out some uninterrupted time and is at home, working on a conference paper with an impending deadline. She is citing a paper in her EndNote library when she notices a previously undetected problem: two slightly different references for what appears to be the same paper. Which one is correct?

It’s Thursday afternoon. Another HSLS patron is thinking about the literature search he needs to do for an assignment due next week. He’s on his way to class now but wonders whether his HSLS liaison librarian will be free to meet with him afterward.

HSLS patrons, wherever they are, now have a new option: chat reference.

The mhsls chat widget has joined the email form on HSLS’ Ask A Librarian page . The widget is a small, self-contained interface for real-time conversation with an HSLS reference librarian. Enter your message in the bottom window, and then press the Enter key. Your message jumps to the top window, where you’ll see the librarian’s reply.

The widget appears during regular reference hours: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. (August–May). Check the widget status message for immediate availability—“mhsls is online” when the librarian is free, “I’ll be right back” when he or she is helping another patron.

The m in mhsls is for “mobile.” With plenty of free chat apps available for smart phones and other mobile devices, you can also chat with mhsls from your mobile in Meebo, AIM, Google Talk, or Yahoo! Messenger. To get started, just click on the link above the mhsls widget and sign up for the HSLS buddy list, limited to our Pitt and UPMC patrons. We’ll send you a buddy request in the chat application of your choice.

Chat technology dates back to the pre-Web Internet, with its text-based chat rooms. America Online’s Instant Messenger (AIM) made Web-based chat popular in the 1990s. The terms chat and IM are now used interchangeably.

Long a fixture at academic arts and sciences libraries such as Hillman Library, chat reference is now common in academic health sciences libraries, too. HSLS librarians are enthused about chat’s new timeliness in the age of social computing. Chat creates an immediate connection with another person. It is easy to use and already familiar to many HSLS patrons.

~ Patricia Weiss