Lancashire County Council Library Service

Expand your library's offerings through 24/7 reference services

Photo from Lancashire County Council Library Service of a man with a laptop
Photo courtesy of Lancashire County Council

"Digital facilities, such as Enquire, place the library's services strategically as an information provider within an authority and as somewhere to learn and improve digital skills."

Carolyn Waite
Information Development Manager, Lancashire County Council Cultural Services

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), which leads and manages libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, identified four key service areas integral to every public library: reading, information, digital and health. These four Universal Offers influence the priorities of public libraries throughout this region.

When Carolyn Waite, Information Development Manager at Lancashire County Council Cultural Services, began to incorporate these offers into Lancashire County Libraries, she looked for a way to connect library users' questions with librarians 24/7. "We've had no designated reference staff since 2009," Carolyn explained. "How and when people want and expect to access information nowadays has meant a restructure of how we delivered information and traditional reference services."

Carolyn looked for an online chat system that would support library users whenever they sought answers. "There's little chance of an affordable chat service being developed within Lancashire County Council, and this is an area where we saw customer need," she said. "We joined Enquire in May 2013 after seeing the possibilities for it to enhance our offer and link it to the SCL digital and information offers."

Using Enquire 24/7 virtual reference service, Lancashire Libraries offer easy access to the information their users need. "When we implemented the Enquire service, we wanted to use the underlying principles that we have across all our channels, and that's around enabling staff and customers to find quality information easily and improve digital literacy," Carolyn explained. "We guide questioners to websites and resources rather than giving them the answer."

"Implementing Enquire has been useful and has seen us meet all of those [Society of Chief Librarians' Universal] Offers in some way."

The chat functionality of Enquire adds extra value as there is a real person at the end of the chat. "We have a chat Qwidget that fits nicely into mobile devices and on our website. We've branded it 'Ask a Lancashire Librarian' to offer a local feel, although we can't always provide cover," Carolyn said. When Lancashire staff can't cover the chat, other librarians from the United Kingdom and United States take shifts to provide 24/7 reference support. The chat capability is reflective of the needs of the staff, its users and the commercial world, meaning libraries' credibility of being an authoritative source of information remains. "It does help to maintain our presence in the digital environment and also gives customer choice," Carolyn added.

In the first year of using Enquire, Lancashire Libraries have seen a positive impact. "We have seen Enquire fit our own information strategy objectives and those of the SCL offers. Our staff skills have been highlighted and development needs recognized," Carolyn said. Most importantly, she notes, "We have had good feedback from customers, which helps motivate the staff and demonstrates the Lancashire line of making a difference through reading, learning and information in action."

Services used by Lancashire County Council Library Service

Map showing location of Lancashire County Council Library Service

Library at a glance

  • Lancashire County Council oversees 74 branch libraries and 9 mobile libraries
  • The mobile library service serves more than 1,000 stops on a fortnightly basis
  • The libraries provide a range of digital resources on subjects such as news, family and local history, business, art and music

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