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CDNLAO Newsletter

No. 99, February 2022

Special topic: Library services for children and young adults

AnyQuestions a chat reference service for New Zealand school students

By Amy Jacob, Service Manager AnyQuestions, Services to Schools, National Library of New Zealand

< AnyQuestions website >

AnyQuestions is a free online reference service for all New Zealand school students via live text-based chat. During the hours of 1-6 pm, students can visit the AnyQuestions website and chat with a librarian to get help with their research.

AnyQuestions was established by the National Library in 2004 in collaboration with a small group of public libraries and support from the Ministry of Education. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, continuing to evolve to meet new needs and increase the number of partners involved. There are now fifteen public library networks involved in the service.

The service is led and managed by National Library's Services to Schools, in collaboration with partner libraries and supported by the Ministry of Education. This unique partnership provides an enduring foundation for collaboration and potential to identify new opportunities to support the needs of young people.

The AnyQuestions librarians help students to formulate their research strategy by unpacking their topic, discussing keywords, and sharing tips to help them evaluate online information. This information literacy approach aims to teach students to be competent, independent researchers who are able to find relevant and reliable information for themselves.

AnyQuestions focuses on supporting the New Zealand school curriculum. The librarians are especially trained to communicate with young people and help them with questions on any topic. Some questions students have asked include:

  • What energy transformations occur in a hairdryer?
  • How can I convert decimals to percentages?
  • What is the impact of Jacinda Ardern on children since becoming Prime Minister
  • Can I please have some info on stone age communication?

The key benefits of the service lie in its safety and the help it provides for students in finding quality assured information that is right for their need and level. As students grapple with the growing challenge of identifying and evaluating trusted information, their interactions on AnyQuestions build their confidence and critical thinking skills in this area.

The AnyQuestions service operates during the school year (including school holidays), and records between 4,000 and 7,000 chats annually. Since it was publicly launched in 2005, the service has used various chat software packages as the online technology landscape has changed. Currently the service uses the LiveChat software.

< Many Answers website >

Many Answers is another component of the AnyQuestions website, which students can access at any time. Many Answers consists of entries that guide students to relevant and reliable resources on popular topics. The entries are not intended to provide answers, but rather to lead students to websites and other resources that help them to find the information they need.

The AnyQuestions service currently involves a team of around 200 librarians from across the library partners. Libraries sign a Memorandum of Understanding that stipulates their organisational commitment and responsibilities. Most librarians spend one hour per week on AnyQuestions. The regular training and professional development provided to AnyQuestions librarians is incentive for libraries to become a partner of the service. AnyQuestions training is sought after and there is consistent feedback from partner libraries that the ongoing training and professional development provided increases the skills, knowledge and confidence of their library staff. Being part of AnyQuestions also gives partner libraries the opportunity to connect and build relationships with schools in their region. The librarians on AnyQuestions come from: the National Library of New Zealand, Auckland Libraries, Hamilton Libraries, Rotorua Library, Puke Ariki, Hutt City Libraries, Wellington City Libraries, Nelson Public Libraries, Tasman District Libraries, Marlborough District Libraries, Waimakariri Libraries, Christchurch City Libraries, Selwyn Libraries, Timaru District Libraries, Dunedin Public Libraries and Invercargill City Library & Archives. Other participants include the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa.

< AnyQuestions characters >

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