"Refquest" Reference Desk E-Mail Service Changes Address

Refquest, the library's Ask-A-Librarian e-mail service was implemented in 1996, but has recently adopted a new address:

In addition to contacting reference staff via the traditional in-person or telephone consultation, refquest allows library patrons to send questions and inquiries directly to the library's reference desk 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Refquest messages are checked once every hour, Monday - Friday, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm. Most questions receive responses immediately, but those that require more time or in-depth research are usually answered within 24 hours.

Over the past two years, use of the refquest service has increased from one or two messages a week to several messages each day. The fact that more people have convenient access to e-mail may account for this increase in usage. Many library patrons find that sending a reference question via e-mail is another quick and easy alternative to coming to the library in-person or making a telephone call. Some people enjoy using e-mail for their reference transactions because it allows them to do away with paper altogether, or avoid having to play phone tag, use the mail, or fax things. E-mail reference services may also be especially convenient for those who frequently utilize computer-based tools, or those who are located at remote sites.

Any question can be sent via refquest, but some questions are easier to address via e-mail than others. In fact, a project conducted at the College of Library and Information Services (CLIS) at the University of Maryland explored the e-mail reference process. The authors concluded, "it is clear that some substantive reference questions can be negotiated successfully via e-mail," but "an alternative communication medium should be considered if the question negotiation continues beyond two messages."

One way to assure that your question receives a complete, prompt answer is to be as specific as possible in your message. For example, the question "Do you own volume 23 of the journal, Nature? If not, do you know where I can get it?" is perfectly appropriate for refquest. But, if you ask, "Do you have any information on male infertility?" or, "Send me everything you have on glaucoma," librarians will have to contact you for more information before supplying an answer. Instead of sending an open-ended question, tell us what resources you've already consulted. If you're looking for information on male infertility, let us know whether you've already consulted the medical textbooks or MEDLINE. If you're interested in a specific treatment -- the drug Viagra, for instance -- let us know that too. Another way to speed responses to your reference question is to include your full name, department, address and phone number on the message so that a librarian can contact you for clarification or more information if necessary.

We encourage you to take advantage of our reference department services. Telephone or fax us, make an appointment to meet one-on-one with a librarian, or e-mail your questions to refquest@med-libwww.bu.edu.