With electronic service, 24/7 reference help a click away

With electronic service, 24/7 reference help a click away

With the Web and Google, Yahoo or some other search tool it seems like anything you want to know is just a query away, but let's face it.

The answer to your question often comes in pieces, assembly required, and judging the veracity of sources can be challenging.

Sure would be nice to have an experienced information wrangler along to help you ride herd.

Somebody like a reference librarian.

A consortium of area libraries is making it possible to get assistance from a librarian around the clock using Web-based e-mail or instant messaging programs.

The AskAway system, an Illinois State Library initiative, links the Lincoln Trail Libraries consortium to more than 120 libraries in Illinois and a couple hundred in Wisconsin that have agreed to let librarians field queries from users. Fourteen of the area libraries in Lincoln Trail are among those helping answer questions.

If you wake up at 2 a.m. wondering whether the advent of the bikini led to an increase in skin cancer, don't despair.

Once librarians in East Central Illinois go home, the questions bump to a national or a global network, Lincoln Trail Executive Director Jan Ison said recently. You might get someone in New Zealand or England answering your question, an especially good deal if it's a question about New Zealand or England.

The system can be accessed at www.lincolntrail.info/ipac.html. Then click the AskAway icon at the bottom of the page.

AskAway is one of three new services being offered by local libraries with help from Lincoln Trail, a consortium of more than 120 libraries in nine area counties, including Champaign, Clark, Coles, Douglas, Edgar, Ford, Iroquois, Piatt and Vermilion.

Two other new programs are aimed at assisting library users for whom English may not be a first language.

One program, which is spearheaded by Lincoln Trail, makes a network of volunteer interpreters available to librarians around the state who need help communicating with a patron.

In addition, Lincoln Trail has implemented a Spanish-language version of its online catalog interface, which allows users to search the holdings of libraries in the system. The feature is accessible by visiting www.lincolntrail.info/ipac.html and clicking on the Lincoln Trail Espanol link atop the page.

"We think that we have a growing diverse population in this area and it's a way to serve, as much as we can, that population," said Lincoln Trail consultant Pat Boze.

Joe Sciacca, the Lincoln Trail consultant directing the interpreter project, which is called PolyTalk, said there are about 100 languages spoken in the state.

Meanwhile, one in five Illinois residents speaks a language other than English at home, said Randi Weiss, PolyTalk's coordinator.

So far the program, funded with a federal grant through the state library, has 75 interpreters available to do real-time interpretation over the phone in 20 languages, with plans to expand both numbers, Sciacca said.

Weiss demonstrated a Web site, www.polytalk.info, for managing the system where volunteer interpreters can sign up, list the hours they're available and post contact and other information, and where registered librarians can find an interpreter.

Volunteer interpreters also can contact Sciacca or Weiss at 352-0047, ext. 206 or 229.

Lincoln Trail also is preparing a kit of print materials focused on the 40 languages spoken most in the state. The kits include materials to help a librarian determine a patron's language and translations of many questions and answers common in library settings.

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