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One New Thing
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
One New Thing: Where they are asking the questions.

I read an article called “The fact finders” in the Icon liftout of the Sydney Morning Herald (written by Nicole Manktelow, published Jun 19-20 2004). It discusses three services that people can use to have tricky questions answered: Vodafone 123, the NLA’s Ask Now, and MoJoKnows.
(Read the PDF of "The fact finders", archived on the MoJoKnows site.)

Rather than discuss the actual article, it’s my own librarian reactions to it that I’d like to write about.

First thing I noticed: the people on 123 and MoJoKnows “aren’t necessarily librarians”.
My reaction: what?? How then do people know they are getting the quality and reliability of service that librarians concentrate so much on?
Thinking further: I realise that these are sort of quick-answer services. The impression I get is that they are asked mostly ready reference-style questions, which anyone with a telephone, a decent amount of Internet savvy, and training could answer in a few minutes of searching. (I do also wonder if the quote means some of them *are* librarians.)

Second: MoJoKnows is a service anyone can use - questions are sent via SMS, and if you are willing to pay $3, they will reply within 15mins.
My reaction: that’s a lot for one question. Do people not know public libraries will answer for free?
Thinking further: But people will pay for the convenience. Mobile phones are everywhere: sure, you can be surfing the web (or perhaps making phone calls?) on your phone as well, but if you’re arguing with a friend over the name of an actor in a movie you saw years ago, do you ever think, “Well, here’s my mobile phone, I’ll call the library?” I don’t!

Third: It’s pointed out in the article that with the Ask Now service, people have usually already gone online and done a bit of searching themselves, so the questions people ask via the chat service tend to be a bit more in-depth.
My reaction: Reading about it, and looking at the website, Ask Now looks pretty boring - something you would only use if you were doing an assignment or a thesis.
Thinking further: It’s a service that comes across as geared more towards researchers, not regular people who just have a question they want answered. I imagine I would use it and love it if I were sitting at my computer and working - it looks very useful, but it doesn’t look fun.

Is “fun” is a word that people are comfortable using to describe reference desk services? As soon as I read the article I felt like sending a message to MoJoKnows just to see if they could answer, because it sounds like fun. And next time I’m in a café with friends trying to remember something and failing, I might do that!

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