What to do when Google doesn

A free service that lets Ontarians engage in a real-time chat over the Web with a librarian on a number of research topics could be useful to IT professionals seeking a more targeted virtual search approach, said the initiative’s project manager.

askON’s Virginia Roy said the initiative is designed to grant equity of information access to all areas of the province.

The service, managed by Ask Ontario (which is a project by Knowledge Ontario), launched its first phase last week across 10 public library systems and seven post-secondary libraries in the province.

IT professionals in particular, said Roy, can access content on software reviews, products, career development and advancement, and on the industry in general. “We’re moving library reference and research into a mode of communication that is much more comfortable to an IT professional because we’re bringing it online,” she said.

She doesn’t dismiss the usefulness of online search engines like Google and Yahoo, but they’re like “a whole lot of books on the floor.” Think of askON, she said, as “your own personal cyber buddy” that filters the thousands of results that a search engine might otherwise relay.

Given that searches are based on bona fide library resources, “askON allows authority and relevance of information in a given topical area. This isn’t some guy in his basement making it up,” said Roy.

Greg Lane, former president & spokesperson for Mississauga, Ont.-based Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) ordered reference books using askON within minutes from the comfort of his office. It’s a useful resource for not only IT professionals but for everyone, he said, but “probably from an IT perspective, there’s more of a comfort level with using electronic anything to communicate.”

It should absolutely be helpful for performing a virtual search on technology books and articles on particular topics, said Lane.

And askON provides the targeted search approach that perhaps search engines might not, he agreed. “[It’s] using catalogues and resources that have been set up for the purpose of supporting inquires, whereas Google has been set up in a commercial sense,” he said, adding that search engines often give more value to the provider than to the user.

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The fact that askON provides assistance from a librarian means users can have the faith that search results will be unbiased, he said.

“So the evolution of service deliver is clearly here.”

In the back end, askON is currently staffed by 200 librarians across the province who provide “contribution in kind,” said Roy, adding that they can communicate with each other via an instant messaging channel while helping askON visitors.

The initiative is supported by a “well-stocked” and password-protected staff wiki that houses the schedule, a blog, news and announcements, FAQs, best practices and other useful information. “It’s an incredibly robust and constantly developing portal,” she said.

While the launch is in its first phase, said Roy, the platform is a fully-realized service. The project is looking to include additional institutions and communities in the future to help further meet the needs of askON visitors.

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