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Virtual Reference Service

Mission Statement

The Association of Jesuit College and University (AJCU) Libraries Virtual Reference Service (Chat with a Librarian) is committed to providing high quality online reference service to students, faculty, and staff of all the participating Jesuit institutions. See the list of participating AJCU libraries below.

Service Overview

The AJCU Virtual Reference Service provides online reference help to the primary clientele of the participating Jesuit institutions, including the University of Detroit Mercy, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This collaborative program allows UDM to extend its standard hours of operation by distributing reference service across multiple libraries and time zones.

Using the Chatstaff software allows the librarian to chat with the patron; the service is cooperatively staffed by AJCU librarians 9 AM-9 PM, and by librarians hired by's Librarians by Request service 9 PM-9 AM.

The University of Detroit Mercy librarians contribute six hours per week to this service.

Service Philosophy

The AJCU Virtual Reference Service was created in order

  • to provide a new method of delivering reference services to the clientele of the participating Jesuit institutions
  • to provide an additional way to reach users, particularly students, who use chat software in their daily communication with others
  • to enhances the traditional service philosophy of academic libraries which consider instruction and teaching an integral part of providing reference assistance.

During online sessions with patrons, librarians emphasize teaching how to do the research over simply providing information. The chat function of the software helps support this philosophy by allowing librarians to instruct the patrons in the use of particular databases.

Clientele Served
The service is available to current students, faculty, and staff of the University of Detroit Mercy and other participating Jesuit institutions without restrictions. Patrons accessing the service will be asked to identify the Jesuit institution with which they are affiliated.

When a non-affiliated patron accesses the service, the librarian may do a brief reference interview and point the patron to freely available web based resources, or may refer the patron to a local public institution. The librarian may also choose to answer the question if no other patrons are waiting, but proprietary databases may not be used to aid unaffiliated patrons.

Although each AJCU library contributes to the service hours, the librarian online will answer questions from all participating libraries, not just his/her home institution. When not contributing the to AJCU service hours, an individual library may choose to offer the service only for its own clientele.

There is no time limit for answering a question, although the librarian is aware when another patron is waiting. If a question requires more than 15 minutes, the patron may be referred to a home institution librarian.

The librarian on duty is not required to answer more than one question at a time. If a second question appears in the queue while the librarian is already answering a question, it will be routed after a few minutes to another online AJCU librarian. If no other AJCU librarian is online, the question will be picked up by the Librarians by Request staff (

Types of questions answered
The type of question that will be answered may include:

  • A specific piece of information (examples: a fact, a date, spelling of a name) or verifying citations.
  • Suggestions for appropriate electronic or print resources to help find information for a project or research paper or help in constructing a search statement.
  • Assistance in the use of electronic resources.

For in-depth reference questions or if detailed research assistance is needed the librarian on duty may choose to follow up by email or may refer the question to a librarian from the patron's host institution.

This service is designed to answer reference questions. General check out/check in or directional questions may be answered using the library policy pages provided by each institution and available on the AJCU Virtual Reference web site.

Reference practices
As a general rule, the reference service provided in an online environment should:


  • Be of the same quality as in-person reference service. (e.g. conduct a quick reference interview, use authoritative/quality resources, etc)
  • Focus on online resources as this is a virtual service (online catalogs, databases, electronic journals, online reference books, and appropriate web pages)
  • Make use of databases and resources available at the patron's host institution. UDM student, faculty, and staff must authenticate to access any proprietary databases.

Follow-up/Referral Procedures
Librarians on duty will answer each question to the best of his/her abilities. If the duty librarian determines that a question would be better answered by a local librarian, the librarian can refer the question to the patron's host institution. If a librarian from the patron's host institution is simultaneously online, the question will be transferred immediately. In certain cases, the librarian may negotiate with the patron to continue the transaction by e-mail if it is necessary.

The service does not include faxing, photocopying or mailing materials to a patron.

Database Access Policy
Librarians adhere to the licensing agreements for electronic resources and databases used. The librarian on duty will use the databases and electronic resources available at UDM and will ask the patron to authenticate UDM affiliation before access is granted. The librarian can co-browse and instruct the patron in the use of the databases. Librarians on duty will not provide access to databases at other AJCU institutions

Privacy Policy
Personal information is collected from patrons when the AJCU Virtual Reference Service is used. When the patron uses the AJCU Virtual Reference Service, the patron is asked to provide the patron's name, institution affiliation, status (faculty, student, staff, etc.), and email address.

  • Providing the email address allows the AJCU librarian to send patron a transcript of the session, or to send patron additional information related to the question.
  • The AJCU librarian will disclose the patron's personal information only when it is necessary to answer the request for information. For example, the AJCU librarian may refer the patron's question and personal information to a librarian at another Jesuit institution. AJCU will not share a patron's email address or use it for other purposes.
  • AJCU collects some information about a patron's computer, such as the browser version being use and the IP address. AJCU stores session cookies on the patron's machine in order to send the patron chat messages, web sites and files, but these cookies will dissolve when the session between the patron and the librarian ends.
  • The transcript of the patron's virtual reference session and the patron's personal information are stored on a server. AJCU keeps the transcripts and make them available to supervising librarians for quality control, but all the personal information is purged from the system after 30 days.

Duties of Participating Institutions

  • UDM is responsible for staffing the number of hours agreed upon with degreed librarians who have been trained in the use of the software.
  • UDM is responsible for training new librarians and keeping librarians current on changes in the service and in the software.
  • UDM is responsible for creating and keeping up to date a library policy page providing information such as hours, circulation policies, email contact, list of databases, list of electronic journals, etc.
  • UDM is responsible for reviewing transcripts (or a sample of transcripts) involving their students and their librarians in order to maintain high quality control in the service. This review is done weekly, so that there could be follow-up if a question was not answered properly.
  • UDM is responsible for providing access to the service through their library home page or other media, and to market the service to its community.
  • UDM is responsible for writing an annual report using the statistics and reports provided by the software and detailing the problems and successes of the service at this university.

If you have questions concerning the 24/7 Reference/Virtual Reference please contact Jill Spreitzer (313 993-1221) or

This policy statement is based on the AJCU Virtual Reference Project Participating Libraries Service Policies and Guidelines developed at Georgetown University for the AJCJ libraries (9/24/2004)

Permalink Last updated 08/17/2017 by R. Davidson

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