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January 20, 2021
Hosting Solutions & Library Consulting

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Building Your Virtual Branch with a Local Virtual Reference Department
The difference between Chat Departments and Local Queues, and why you just might be interested!
With Chat with a Librarian’s (CWAL) migration to LibAnswers, your library has the option to participate in CWAL either as an individual library or as its own chat department.  Both options connect you to Chat with a Librarian’s 24/7 virtual reference coverage, with your own customized chat widget—but only one of those options gives you the benefits of a complete virtual reference department.

The differences in a nutshell:
  • Libraries that participate as individual libraries receive their own local queue as well as customized CWAL widgets for their homepage. These widgets link to their library’s FAQ/Policy document—but all of the incoming chat requests go straight to the statewide ChatPA queue.  When staff is online, they answer local incoming chat requests as part of staffing the ChatPA queue for the state; when they are not online, other chat operators from the state answer the questions that come in through that widget.
  • Libraries that participate as Chat Departments also receive their own local queue and customized CWAL widgets for their homepage—but all of their incoming chat requests are routed first to their own local queue, before bumping up to the ChatPA queue.  If no one is available locally to answer, someone in the cooperative will do so.  This means that when local staff are online, they become their widget’s first responders, and it’s only when they aren’t online that questions for their widget fall back to the statewide service.
Why bother with a Chat Department, when all the chats go to the same place eventually?
  • Glad you asked!  One of the main benefits of having a local Chat Department is that you can use your Local Chat Department to help build up your library’s own dedicated Virtual Reference branch.  Having a Chat Department means you can provide live chat reference, email reference, and more—all through one platform—making it easier to manage for you and easier to navigate for your patrons!
  • In addition, unlike the statewide and global 24/7 queues, which require all staff responding to questions to be degreed librarians, local chat departments can be staffed as your library deems appropriate.
Moving from having a Local Queue to a Chat Department is a relatively painless process—and for libraries with a sufficient amount of enthusiastic staff, becoming a Chat Department is a great step in building your library’s Virtual Branch.  And it’s just another way that CWAL and POWER Library can help you meet the needs of your patrons!

Concerned you don’t have enough staff-power to manage a Chat Department, or looking for ways of making your virtual reference more robust?  Consider joining forces with other libraries in your system or consortium!  Be on the lookout for more information soon about participating in CWAL on the system-level!
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