Ask a Librarian is a live virtual reference service that offers online reference assistance to residents in the state of Florida. Ask a Librarian is an official service of the Florida Electronic Library and is administered by the Tampa Bay Library Consortium (TBLC).
Participating libraries provide users with virtual reference services via live chat software, text messaging, and e-mail forms which users can access through embedded links and widgets on their library’s official website. Live chat and text messaging are available from 10:00 a.m. to midnight EST from Sunday through Thursday, and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST on Friday and Saturday; the e-mail form is available to patrons 24 hours per day, seven days per week. As of March 2016, Ask a Librarian has 133 participating institutions including public libraries and library systems, K-12 libraries, and university and college libraries.
Ask a Librarian began as a partnership between the College Center for Library Automation (CCLA) and TBLC in the interest of creating a statewide virtual reference service that would increase the presence of librarians on the internet. In 2002, the organizations successfully applied for a joint grant through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and were awarded $339,000 for the development and implementation of their pilot project as a service of the Florida Electronic Library.
The Ask a Librarian virtual reference service was officially activated on July 28, 2003. Tampa Bay-area libraries were the first to participate, with Pasco County libraries joining shortly afterward. Within the first year of operation, nearly 7,500 Floridians had used the service to get answers from a reference librarian. By August 19, 2007, Ask a Librarian had answered its 100,000th reference question. As of February 2011, Ask a Librarian had logged over 274,000 live virtual reference sessions and e-mail questions.
Ask a Librarian has made several efforts meet user reference needs on smartphones and other mobile devices. In October 2010, Ask a Librarian introduced a text messaging service to accompany their traditional chat service. In 2012, the service introduced a mobile-friendly website interface for tablets and phones. In April 2013, the service also launched the Ask A Librarian Mobile App, a mobile-friendly interface geared toward improving the user chat experience on smartphones and tablets.