Service review: QUT Library Reference Service – “Ask a Librarian”

This week’s Information Programs, Products and Services topic, “Reference”,  and our Twitter chat, #ifn614refchat prompted me to think about the reference services available from the QUT library website.  After 3 semesters of studying at QUT as an external student, I had never before taken advantage of this service, preferring to do my own research for assignments and find my own information.

So, fighting against all my natural instincts, I decided to access the Ask a Librarian reference service on the QUT library website for help with finding references for a potential project I am thinking about for next semester.  It turned out to be surprisingly easy to Ask a Librarian, was quite helpful; and I may well do it again sometime.

Let me take you through the process, in case, like me, you have never used the service before:  

There are 2 access points to the Ask a Librarian service on the QUT library homepage; one in the header and the other in the footer.  Both links are identified by the text, Need help? Ask a Librarian (See screen capture below).

QUT library home page screen capture, 10/08/16.

QUT library home page screen capture, 10/08/16.

Click either link, and you will be taken to the dedicated Ask a Librarian page of the QUT library website.  As you can see by the screen capture below, the page provides information about the kinds of things you can ask about (e.g. resources and services, researching, search strategies, etc), FAQs and links for students and researchers to find more help.  Displayed prominently on the page, with symbol icons to make them easy to see and understand, are 4 methods you can use to get help from a librarian; including: visiting a helpdesk, chatting online, email / online form and phone.

Need help_Ask a Librarian_page_crop

Ask a Librarian web page screen capture, 10/08/16.

This variety of contact methods caters to a variety of user needs, preferences, and user convenience. Popp (2012)  discusses the value of convenience to users, in terms of access to resources, and time: that is, users want what is needed as quickly and easily as possible.  The Ask a Librarian service certainly fulfils these convenience factors. My preference was to send an email.  (See below).

Email request_crop

Reference question email screen capture 10/08/16

I received an automated response within 15 minutes of sending my email (not bad, I thought, considering I sent it at 9:30pm), to say that someone would resolve my enquiry within 3 days.

Automated response_crop

Automated response email screen capture 10/08/2016

The response came the next morning at 11:19am (see below), containing a link to only 1 article, but also including relevant, helpful information about:

  • where to search (Library Quickfind, educational databases such as ERIC, Google Scholar)
  • how to search, including search strategies and possible search terms
  • how to refine search results
  • how to find relevant journals and databases
  • how to find relevant search terms from article abstracts
  • contacting my liaison librarian, along with her contact details.
  • Contacting the library again if I required more help.
Ask a Librarian_response_crop

Ask a Librarian email response screen capture 10/08/16

My project query is not yet well-defined; still in the initial stages of development, without a full suite of key words, and no literature searches have been carried out at this stage; so this was an exploratory search.  I thought that the response I received was completely satisfactory, providing me with a relevant article, useful strategies for further searches, directing me to useful tools, and referring me on to my liaison librarian to discuss the project in more depth. I thought that the response time in particular was very good.

QUT library’s Ask a Librarian reference service met my expectations.  It was convenient, informative, relevant and quick.  I would recommend this service to other students or researchers requiring support with finding appropriate, relevant sources for projects and assignments.



  1. Imbi Josey · August 11, 2016

    Great review Michele. It has certainly made me feel more comfortable with the idea of using the service. Especially since you can email, which I think would be my preference as well.


    • Michele Smith · August 11, 2016

      Thanks, Imbi! It was a really painless process, and helpful, too!


  2. Chloe Pickard · August 11, 2016

    Hi Michelle,

    I think this was an excellent review! I really liked your hands on work and step by step process including the screen shots. May I ask why you haven’t asked librarians for help finding information in the past?


    • Michele Smith · August 11, 2016

      Thanks, Chloe. I don’t typically ask for help because when I am starting out, my query is not well formulated, and I don’t know what to ask. I have found that I like searching myself and finding my own information. I like the search process – homing in on the right key words to use, using advanced search functions, the excitement you feel when you’ve found something relevant, and realise you’re on the right track. Also, I feel embarrassed to ask someone to do something that I could do myself.


  3. maddy · August 11, 2016

    I agree, the Ask a Librarian service is excellent 🙂


    • Michele Smith · August 11, 2016

      Thanks, Maddy!


  4. Anitra · August 11, 2016

    Michele, an interesting & extremely relevant review. I guess as future professionals in this field we need to “own” this space and I really appreciate you exploring this. Good to also learn about the liaison librarian. Anitra


    • Michele Smith · August 14, 2016

      Thanks Anitra! It was really good for me to take this opportunity and use the service, otherwise, I don’t know how long it would have been before I actually used a reference service!


  5. Chloe Delaney · August 12, 2016

    Hi Michele,

    I really enjoyed this post! It is well written, and the way that you have explained your process and put in pictures of your examples is awesome. Well done!


    • Michele Smith · August 14, 2016

      Thanks Chloe!


  6. Katie Ferguson · August 12, 2016

    Hi Michele, I enjoyed your post 🙂 Looks like a really valuable service, and you don’t have to wait for office hours, or for someone to pick up the phone. I think one advantage of a face-to-face ‘reference interview’ is that you can explore the topic in great detail, rather than just getting an answer to your question. Because we often don’t know what we really want to ask and a really good reference interview pulls this out.


    • Michele Smith · August 14, 2016

      Thanks, Katie! It certainly is a convenient service. You make a good point about the face-to-face reference interview, though, as being able to go into a lot more depth, which is something that you wouldn’t be able to do with a single “Ask a Librarian” transaction. And it is very true that we don’t know what we want to ask, which is why I often go off and do my own searching.


  7. Michelle Dare · August 13, 2016

    Really good review Michele! Like you, I hadn’t used the Ask a Librarian service in depth (I had only asked very basic questions in the chat) but this review has inspired me to use it more often. It looks like a really great service.


    • Michele Smith · August 14, 2016

      Thanks Michelle! I’m glad you got something out of my review.


  8. Kylie Burgess · August 13, 2016

    Hi Michele, great post!
    I think it is great that the person who responded to your question mentioned the liaison librarian – they do great work for post-graduate researchers. The turn around for an answer was nice and quick, too and you were provided with some good tips. Seems like Ask a Librarians is a great example of how useful reference librarians can be in online spaces.


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