OCUL’s Virtual Reference Governing Group is supportive of research involving virtual reference and recognizes its value to the library community. User data may be made available to researchers at partner institutions for the purposes of research leading to dissemination of results, through publication, presentation or other means of distribution. User data is not available to individuals not affiliated with Ask a Librarian partner institutions.
Prospective researchers are encouraged to discuss their data needs with their institution's site coordinator prior to submitting a request for data. Requests must be submitted via the appropriate form (see below). The requests are reviewed by a committee composed of at least three members of the Virtual Reference Governing Group, representing both unilingual English and bilingual partner institutions.
Scholars Portal will maintain a record of all data released. When using Ask a Librarian data in research, publication or presentation, researchers are asked to acknowledge OCUL/Scholars Portal.
Two types of data are available: aggregated data, and chat-level data.
1 - Aggregated data
Aggregated data, such as chat volume statistics or exit survey results, is available in the form of reports generated by the software used to deliver the Ask a Librarian service. Data can be extracted from a range of existing reports, and it is sometimes possible to create custom or site-specific reports. Please contact your local chat coordinator or OCUL/Scholars Portal’s Ask a Librarian coordinator to discuss what is available.
Please note that since the Ask a Librarian service was launched, three chat systems have been used: LivePerson’s Agent Console (Sept 2011 – June 2016), LivePerson’s LiveEngage (July 2016 – Dec 2016), and NubGames’ LibraryH3lp (2017 – present). Each offers a different selection of reports. Consequently, certain data is only available for specific time ranges, and data points may not be comparable across reports.
Because report data is aggregated, it is possible that ethics review will not be required. However, researchers should check with their institution's Research Ethics Board before submitting requests for reports.
2 - Chat-level data
Chat-level reports include all or parts of the transcripts of chat transactions and individual users’ responses to the pre- and post-chat surveys. In order to ensure the privacy of Ask a Librarian patrons and staff, chat-level data that will be released must be anonymized, and each transcript or report must be reviewed to ensure that no identifying information is contained. OCUL/Scholars Portal staff and local chat coordinators are the only individuals authorized to perform the anonymization. Chat-level data is only available from June 2015 onwards.
The collection and anonymization of transcript data is very time consuming, and for that reason researchers are strongly encouraged to consult with their local chat coordinator and OCUL/Scholars Portal’s Ask a Librarian coordinator before requesting transcript data. The Ask a Librarian coordinator has the right to reject requests for transcript data. Please note that there may be costs associated with anonymizing data.
Further, due to the confidential nature of the data being examined, researchers must receive Research Ethics Board approval for their research prior to chat-level data being released. Researchers may be asked to submit an ethics certificate as proof of approval.
This policy takes effect September 1, 2013 applies only to data collected after that date. Data collected before Sept. 1, 2013 can be used for internal review and service improvement only. This policy was updated in May 2017.