AskNow!, a Council of Australian State Libraries (CASL) initiative, has recorded its 100,000th enquiry, three years after its launch.

AskNow! (, managed by the National Library of Australia, is a virtual reference desk where rostered operators in libraries around Australia handle queries online using chat software. The milestone inquiry was handled by an operator from the State Library of Victoria.

Monitoring of the usage patterns of AskNow! shows that adult clients of conventional library services are increasingly accessing a tool that many have long regarded as the domain of their children.

AskNow! currently operates from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm AEST Monday to Friday. A similar service operates in the USA , using the same software and server as Australia .

Operators spend an average of seven minutes online with a client and can undertake to email additional material after the chat session has finished.

Service Manager at the National Library, Carmel McInerny , says AskNow! is attracting libraries from around Australia wanting to join an expanding network of skilled researchers. The original team of operators drawn from the NLA, State and Territory Libraries in 2002 has grown, with public libraries from urban and regional Australia and the national libraries of Singapore and New Zealand coming on board. Further libraries are expected to join, spreading the workload which, on a busy day, can run up to 200 enquiries.

“It’s a natural transition for libraries – traditional sources of information – to the internet age,” Carmel McInerny says.

“We see it appealing to people who understand and appreciate the expertise of trained librarians in assisting their enquiries. Research shows people come to us after their own searches prove unsatisfactory. A lot of online users still regularly go to their local library.”

McInerny says AskNow! is an attractive proposition for more isolated users.

“Our operators can open web pages for users to study and there’s also a co-browse function that allows operator and user to relate better. It’s a more efficient use of time for people who may still be on dial-up internet access.

“We’re unable to handle classroom level enquiries … this is a one-to-one function but the link is readily accessible on many secondary and tertiary education websites.”

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