I have to write an extended essay. My chosen theme is: "How the online librarys reference desks work all around the world?" I would like to ask you a favour…


I have to write an extended essay. My chosen theme is: "How the online librarys reference desks work all around the world?" I would like to ask you a favour and if it possible Id like to know which are:
- the most often asked questions,
- in what way you can help to answer them,
- how long does it take to give an answer,
- do you have a special form,
- is there any unanswered question which you couldnt help,
- how many ask did you answer during a year
- since when this reference service works in your library
- what is the history of this reference service?
I hope you will have some time for me and I would be very happy if you could help me. Thank you in advance!


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First some facts about the Ask a librarian, http://www.libraries.fi/ask_librarian/ . It is the joint online reference inquiry service of the Finnish libraries. This means that the questions are answered in many libraries in the whole country. There is a list containing the participating libraries in our service, http://www.libraries.fi/ask_librarian/libraries/ . We provide service in three languages: finnish, swedish and english. There is also a more simple question form for children in finnish and swedish.
1) The most often asked questions.
I’m afraid there is no fresh study about the contence of the questions. There is one student who is planning to make a study about the reference questions sent to our service, but I’m afraid that she has only just started with the project. In general I can tell you that we offer reference service, and that a great part of the questions sent to us are reference questions. By this I mean that the question concerns some subject about which the asking person needs information. Often the ask for literature references or Internet-sites. There are also lots of questions about library systems, services of libraries, opening hours et cetera. You can study the questions and answers given in our service in the archive, which can be found in the following address, http://www.libraries.fi/en-GB/ask_librarian/archive.aspx .
2. In what way you can help to answer them.
We answer reference questions in a traditional way for libraries, that is by giving literature references and addresses of suitable Internet-sites, where information about the subject can be found, to the customer. If the asking persons is in need of facts, for example year of birth of some known person, we look for the information in reference books, give the answer and reference to the literature, where the answer was found.
3. How long does it take to give an answer.
We promise the answer within three working days, but often, the customer receives an answer the same day.
4. Do you have a special form.
We have special software for answering the questions. Normally we write concise answers and give them subject headings (=keywords). We both send the answer to the questioners email and store it in the public archive in our site, http://www.libraries.fi/en-GB/ask_librarian/archive.aspx . This way, it is possilble, for others in need of the same information, to find it in the archive. The archive contains a search facility.
5. Is there any unanswered question which you couldnt help.
There are no questions which we leave unanswered. If the question is too specialised and requires special knowledge, we give advice about where to ask. In case the questioner writes he’s email address incorrectly, we can’t send the answer to his email-address, we can only hope that he will find the answer in the public archive.
6. How many ask did you answer during a year.
We answered about 4000 questions in the year 2005.
7. Since when this reference service works in your library.
Our service started in the present form in the year 1999. It is national, we had a few public libraries co-operating in the beginning, but presently there are 36 public libraries, 12 special libraries and reference inquiry services and 1 university library participating.
8. What is the history of this reference service?
This is a very large question and it is impossible to answer it with a few lines. The first steps were made when the site (and the organisation of) Libraries.fi we created in 1996. Libraries.fi in an Internet-site for all libraries in Finland and therefore it is an ideal ground for services working nationwide. In the year 1999 there were a few libraries answering the questions (about 1500 questions the first year). Year by year there are more and more libraries joining us and more and more questions sent to us. You can read more about Libraries.fi, also Ask a Librarian in the following article, Sarmela Matti, Kirjastot.fi, SPLQ Vol. 37 no. 4/2004, http://www.splq.info/issues/vol37_4/08.htm . Please note, that some of the information concerning Ask a librarian is not valid anymore. For example, in the question form (in finnish and swedish), the questioner gives information, where he lives, and can also choose one participating library, from which he hopes to get the answer. This is good specially for regional questions and specialised questions meant for special libraries (e.g, legal questions to the library of the Parliament).

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