Frequently Asked Questions

Topic: About AskMN

Topic: AskMN Participation

Topic: 24/7 Chat

Topic: AskMN Functionality

Topic: Technical Questions

Topic: About AskMN

What is AskMN?

AskMN is a service that lets Minnesota residents get help from librarians directly from their computer or mobile device, anytime. The service is staffed by trained librarians in Minnesota and a cooperative of librarians around the country. AskMN is funded by a legislative appropriation to Minitex and there is no cost to use or participate in the service.

What is a participant or participating library?

A participant is a Minnesota library that:

  1. Contributes staffing time to the service
  2. Is provided with a QuestionPoint subscription
  3. Is provided with a unique patron entry point identifying users as yours
  4. Is provided with detailed usage statistics based upon entry point usage

Does my library have to participate for my patrons to use AskMN?

No. Residents of Minnesota are able to use AskMN regardless of whether or not their local library particpates.

How will my patrons access AskMN?

AskMN provides a link to our statewide portal,, that a library may add to its website so that visitors to your site will be able to connect to AskMN. Graphic logos are also available for download.

Does it cost anything to participate in AskMN?

No. There is no monetary cost to participate in AskMN.

back to top

Topic: AskMN Participation

Why should my library participate in AskMN? What are the benefits?

Virtual reference is a core service for any library or information provider in the 21st century, allowing their customers to get help when and where they need it. While many organizations may choose to provide their patrons a localized IM-type service, partnership with AskMN provides additional benefits available nowhere else:

  • Expanded service hours
  • Positive return on small investment of staff hours
  • Encouraging innovation within a supported environment; centralized coordination and training means libraries don't have to provide administrative or technical support
  • Reaching new users and bringing them into the library
  • Supporting customer preferences for online engagement
  • Visibility for other library services through service provider referrals
  • Consistent service across K-12 and post-secondary sector and addressing the needs of the lifelong learner
  • Enhanced access to experts facilitates student and lifelong learner use of online databases
  • Building collaborative partnerships within and across institutions
  • Professional development for service providers; a collaborative environment facilitates sharing of expertise
  • Risk avoidance in the event of a disaster—AskMN provides a way for libraries to maintain access to reference service if library service is compromised
  • Customer satisfaction—sample feedback includes:
    • "This was an amazing service. I am off-campus and was panicking because I couldn't get on a database I was able to access on the campus' network, but within seconds the librarian responded and gave me exactly what I needed, and what I couldn't find through Google. Thank you!!!!"
    • "Awesome. Simply awesome."
    • "This service has always been of great help and always available!"
    • "24/7 service eliminates my ability to procrastinate. Thanks for the service and convenience."

What are the responsibilities of participating in AskMN?

Libraries contribute to the cooperative by staffing designated hours of service, usually 1 to 5 hours per week. Staffing availability at your library and expected usage are considered when determining a schedule.

By participating in AskMN, each library will:

  • Appoint an AskMN administrator to represent the institution
  • Provide coverage of an assigned service schedule, based on what your particular library can reasonably contribute
  • Identify staff to provide service and have them participate in necessary training

The AskMN Administrator at each individual participating library will:

  • Report and update the local training and scheduling needs to the AskMN coordinator
  • Maintain the currency of local library/organization information used by the cooperative, such as the library/organization's "policy page"

What types of libraries can participate?

All types of libraries may participate in AskMN.

We are a small library with limited resources. How can we answer questions with our limited print collection?

Questions answered via live chat will utilize online resources. The ELM (Electronic Library for Minnesota, resources are used as the base for online resources from which to start.

How much staff do we have to contribute to participate?

Depending on the size of the institution, libraries contribute 1-5 hours per week. These hours will be spent providing coverage to the chat service.

Can we use the service to provide additional coverage to our own patrons?

Yes. Participating libraries are able to serve their own patrons during the times in which they are providing their minimum hours on AskMN and may decide to provide additional coverage to their own patrons.

We are a special library. Will our collection be unequally accessed?

No. Your collection is accessible for your patrons only. AskMN will not use your collection for patrons that do not belong to your library.

Our special library is not in practice of handling general reference questions. Should we consider participating?

Yes. Contact us for information about ways your library can participate in AskMN.

back to top

Topic: 24/7 Chat

How does AskMN answer questions and provide service 24/7?

In addition to coverage provided by staff from participating Minnesota and out-state libraries, AskMN uses the OCLC 24/7 Reference Cooperative to ensure that chat reference is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

What is the OCLC 24/7 Reference Cooperative?

The 24/7 Reference Cooperative (the "Cooperative") provides an around-the-clock reference service, built by a cooperative of participating libraries. Libraries agree to answer questions for each other in real time, using the QuestionPoint software. The Cooperative helps libraries supplement hours of service by being available to their community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays.

How are requests for homework help handled? Are we expected to spend time providing tutoring services?

AskMN will assist students with research and reference-type questions but not with tutoring.

back to top

Topic: AskMN Functionality

How does a statewide chat service work?

Library staff from participating libraries provide coverage (a minimum of 1-5 hours per week per library) for AskMN. There are two chat queues: an academic queue and a general (public library) queue. Staff from participating libraries will staff the appropriate queue answering questions from Minnesota patrons and the Reference Cooperative.

What is a queue?

A queue is where a patron arrives in the QuestionPoint software and where staff monitoring the service accept a patron into a chat session.

When I am staffing AskMN, how will I help patrons from other libraries?

Each participating library in QuestionPoint has a complete Policy Page, which includes detailed information about the library that is used to assist patrons of that library.

How is the use of proprietary databases handled in AskMN?

ELM ( is the base of online resources to use with Minnesota patrons. Additionally, resources from the patron's library may also be used if guest access authorization has been provided by the participating library in the staff-only, secure policy page.

What is the follow-up process when the chat session ends?

When a chat session ends, the librarian selects one of the following resolution codes in the chat monitor:

  • Answered.
  • Follow-up by patron's library. The patron's home library or group will follow up.
  • Follow-up by me. The librarian who chatted with the patron will follow up.

back to top

Topic: Technical Questions

What is QuestionPoint?

QuestionPoint is a total reference solution composed of three tools: email reference, chat reference, and a 24/7 Reference Cooperative. The 24/7 Reference Cooperative component works with the chat reference tool only. The 24/7 Reference Cooperative service will enable AskMN to provide chat coverage 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Will I have to install the QuestionPoint software on computers for staff and/or patrons?

No. QuestionPoint is a web-based product and is entirely hosted on servers at OCLC.

What are the minimum computer requirements for staff?

The minimum system requirements for patrons and librarians are:

back to top