Friday, 6th August 2010
Mobile Web Meets Virtual Reference in Washington State with Ask-WA's New Mobile Apps
This post has it all.
1) A post from the well-know tech blog, TechFlash (coverage of tech news from the Pacific Northwest) is covering libraries and specifically, the new Ask-WA statewide virtual reference cooperative in the State of Washington.
Specifically, the coverage deals with the launch of the Ask-WA mobile apps for Android and iPhone. That's right, the virtual reference world and mobile world have met and we think it has the potential to be very exciting. It's also long overdue.
The article includes a transcript of a query the writer asked Ask-WA via mobile (he was impressed) and also points out (and a search of the ResourceShelf archives agrees) that this is the FIRST MOBILE APP from a virtual reference service.
While we see virtual reference coverage from time to time (we recently posted about AskNow in MD) there is always ROOM FOR MORE. If you spot articles on virtual ref (or any topic for that matter) that might be of interest. Feel free to share with us. We can't promise we will include it but we promise we will take a close look.
More on Mobile
2) We learn that the Ask-WA service is used by numerous public and academic libraries) across the state and now has mobile apps for iPhone and Android. That's right, easily ask your reference question and get an answer 24x7 with the app.
3) To be official, the iPhone and Android apps went live about a week ago and were updated and announced three days ago (August 2nd). Here's the Facebook announcement.
Ask-WA is a member of the OCLC QuestionPoint service.
We're betting if this goes well, mobile access from Q&A services will continue to expand, and quickly. We used the word "continue" because some libraries on their mobile web sites or mobile apps already offer chat with a librarian/Q&A services. More on that at the bottom of this post. We're also very interested in seeing if OCLC and QuestionPoint get involved in building and financing mobile apps for QP members.
Access the Apps (Both of the Links Include Screen Caps)
You can find the iPhone app here and to access the Android app here. Both are free downloads.
Now comes the hard part. Getting the word out (Ask-WA is off to a good start) and then getting users to try and use the service when needed. Not just try it once and never come back. The challenges with virtual reference are MASSIVE these days since so many Q&A services are out their and more come online each day.
Ask-WA needs not to only market the service but explain to potential users the value their service offers vs. the mass of Q&A services (ChaCha that focuses on mobile would be one specific example). As we said the other day, in some cases certain types of questions (ie. open-ended queries) might work better elsewhere.
Examples might be:
+ Does my boyfriend love me?
+ Does my girlfriend love me?
+ Isn't the new album by Drake awesome?
+ Some of my friends like the Bears but other friends like the Packers. Who should I like?
+ My friend has the latest pair of Nike's, should I buy them?
The bottom line is that word needs to get out and explanations need to take place not only about virtual reference but other services as well. The point was made clear about a week ago when a new study about the Seattle Public Library (a member of Ask-WA) released a report about it's users, what they like/dislike, and their info needs. Seattle Public did well. But one area that needs work is letting users (and of course potential users) what the library offers, especially electronically.
More Awareness of Specialized Services Needed
+ The majority of people were unaware the Library offered online magazines and newspapers, online or in person homework help, or online Library staff assistance and classes for non-English speakers.
We would think these issues are the same for virtual reference services. Let's hope that getting out there, talking to users (and non-users) and showing them that they can get answers (good, quality answers from credible sources 24x7x365 (for free) with their smartphone is so easy. It couldn't be easier.
Congrats to Ask-WA!
See Also: Learn More: Ask-WA: The Statewide Virtual Reference Cooperative
See Also: Other mobile services with Q&A. THESE are only a couple of examples. It's very very far from comprehensive. The McGill Library mobile web site offers librarian chat five days a week. North Carolina State's mobile apps also offer librarian chat 16 hours a day during the school year. Additionally, some public library web sites offer interaction with librarians using telephone or via completing a form.