Monday, January 10, 2011

askON Expands: Research Help from Libraries as Close as Your Keyboard

ONTARIO, January 10, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - Are you trying to find a comprehensive list of award-winning Caribbean authors, career statistics for a long-retired NHL player or a trade association that can help your business expand to Mumbai?

Fast, expert help is as close as your computer—and, best of all, it's free.

Since January 2008, many Ontario libraries have been collaborating to provide an online inquiry service called askON, along with a similar French-language service called ONdemande. askON and ONdemande are among the five digital services of Knowledge Ontario, a not-for-profit collaborative. Seven more public libraries joined the service on January 3, so a total of 63 libraries across the province are now participating.

Here's how it works. You go to your local library's website or to the askON home page ( and open a live chat session. After you post your question, a real librarian—not an automated search engine—finds the information you need. The service is available 45 hours a week, and most inquiries take about 10 to 15 minutes to answer.

Each library provides two to eight hours of live chat help each week. As a result, Ontarians in even the smallest and most remote communities can get almost instant answers to their research questions. "It's an excellent example of how libraries work collaboratively," says Cathy Matyas, CEO of the Brampton Library.

askON is the sort of service very few libraries could provide on their own. However, it's exactly the sort of service they need to offer to stay relevant to many of their users.

"Providing wider access to library services is a key priority for us," says Matyas. She points out that technologically savvy users have flocked to askON. "The uptake has been tremendous in our community."

askON has been particularly popular with students and businesspeople—two groups who might not naturally visit a brick-and-mortar library but who spend a great deal of time online. "We're actually going where they are," says Laura Master, co-ordinator of information services at the Kitchener Public Library. "It's one more avenue for people to explore and discover our libraries."

Once users have made that initial contact, librarians can use the opportunity to help them increase their digital literacy. Many Ontarians, for instance, don't realize that their library cards give them access to a wealth of authoritative databases that can take them far beyond what a simple Google search can offer. In an online chat, librarians can help clients access and navigate these databases.

"askON is a really good way to promote our other online services," says Master.

Librarians are unabashed fans of the service, which helps them develop their technical skills and gives them an opportunity to do what they do best: find information. But perhaps the biggest raves come from askON users themselves, who often leave testimonials on the service's website.

"I really appreciated being able to get library help online from the comfort of my own home," wrote one user. "I don't always have the time to go to the library so this service is very valuable to me. Keep askON going!"

About Knowledge Ontario

Knowledge Ontario (KO) serves Ontarians through five digital services, including askON. KO is a not-for-profit collaborative of public libraries, colleges, universities, school boards, museums, archives, historical associations, hospitals and health libraries.

About askON

askON is a real-time information service, supported by Knowledge Ontario. Using live chat, askON connects people with librarians who can help them find authoritative online information while exposing them to new and relevant sites and sources. Launched on January 7, 2008, askON has grown to include 42 public libraries, 14 college libraries and 7 university libraries across the province. For more information, visit or

A list of participating libraries and current hours can be found at

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