QuestionPoint Virtual Reference at the Graduate Center

QuestionPointLLogoThe Graduate Center has participated in the QuestionPoint electronic reference service, also known as Ask-a-Librarian, since the fall of 2002.  When we began, we offered only email reference, but during the spring 2004 semester, we added a chat service, allowing Graduate Center students, faculty, and staff to address their questions live to Graduate Center librarians.  Beginning in the spring of 2007, this service was expanded.  Graduate Center chats could be responded to by librarians from participating CUNY campuses as well as by librarians throughout the United States.  In addition, Graduate Center librarians respond to questions from elsewhere in CUNY and the world.

The greatest benefit for this QuestionPoint chat service, which has several access points on the library site, for the Graduate Center community is that questions can be answered at any time, and Graduate Center patrons often do use it in the wee hours of the morning.  Librarians outside the Graduate Center generally provide useful responses, and Graduate Center librarians always follow up these chats to provide additional information, if necessary.

The Graduate Center keeps detailed QuestionPoint statistics, tracking all activities from the beginning of its use of the service.  As of April 22, 2013, there have been 11,493 transactions, including 3,796 email questions and 7,699 chats.  Of these chats 5,174 have been conducted by Graduate Center librarians and 2,525 by other CUNY librarians and by librarians at such institutions as Cornell University, Michigan State University, UCLA, the University of West Georgia, and the University of West England, one of two British institutions, along with Open University, participating in this service.

The Graduate Center has performed 1,204 chats for Graduate Center patrons—or those outside GC who find their way to the library’s site—971 for patrons outside CUNY, and 2,997 for other CUNY patrons.  The latter includes 953 chats for Hunter patrons, 722 for Baruch, 576 for Brooklyn, 408 for Borough of Manhattan Community College, 130 for John Jay (which dropped out of the CUNY coop in 2011), 116 for Lehman (which joined in  the spring of 2011), and 88 for Bronx Community College (which joined in the fall of 2010).

In addition to the 1,750 chats for Graduate Center patrons carried out by librarians outside CUNY, 759 have been performed by other CUNY librarians: 271 by Hunter, 161 by Baruch, 114 by Brooklyn, 89 by Bronx CC, 69 by BMCC, 28 by John Jay, and 27 by Lehman.

Total QuestionPoint transactions have risen steadily, from 121 in 2002 to 1,140 in 2008 to 2,161 in 2012.  This steady growth reflects a growing awareness of the service and its usefulness.

The most common question from the beginning has been whether a particular library has a book, journal, or database.  Of the 208 times this question has been asked this semester, 141 of these questions have been made by GC students, faculty, and staff.  Graduate Center patrons can always find the answer to this question by using the CUNY Catalog, Databases, and Journals tabs on the library’s site.

Other common queries include traditional reference questions (such as how to find specific information), access to the library and other libraries, remote access to electronic resources, circulation and interlibrary-loan matters, and computing services.  At the Graduate Center all computing questions should be directed to Information Technology: or 212-817-7300.

Because of the constant availability of QuestionPoint (except for brief down periods for maintenance and upgrading, always in the early morning on weekends), this service has proven extremely valuable for Graduate Center patrons, allowing them to receive reference assistance whenever they need it.  The service also benefits Graduate Center librarians by making them better informed of patrons’ needs.  As a bonus, GC librarians also use QuestionPoint to record and track in-person and telephone transactions at the reference desk.



About the Author

Michael Adams has been a reference librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center since 1996.