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AskAway Partner Benefits and Responsibilities


Standing alongside video, email, phone, and in-person reference services, AskAway chat reference is a core mode of service delivery for post-secondary libraries in British Columbia. Through collaboration, cost-sharing, and coordination of existing infrastructure and resources, AskAway has proven to provide a service far beyond what any individual institution could offer on its own.

This robust service can only continue to be as healthy as its partners. The following information is intended to ensure that the service remains strong and balanced amongst the participating libraries within a commitment that runs the entire 12-month academic calendar.

1: Benefits

AskAway benefits its participating libraries on many levels from those experienced by the student, to the individual library, and beyond to the post-secondary sector.

1A. Benefits for Learners, Educators, and Researchers

AskAway is an essential service that extends equitable access to quality information to thousands of post-secondary learners at their point of need.

  • 73 hours of weekly live chat reference services
  • Visibility of other library services through referrals
  • Reaching new users and bringing them into the library
  • Supporting learner preferences for online learning
  • Expanding service delivery options for distance students
  • Expanding reference service beyond the limitations of library building hours and traditional hours of service
  • Facilitating library services integration into online learning systems

1B. Financial Benefits for Participating Libraries

BC ELN coordination of the AskAway service saves BC post-secondary libraries both time and money allowing participating libraries to deliver superior library services in the most efficient way possible. Financial benefits include:

  • Cost-savings in staff time: shared staffing means each library staffs from 3-34 hours per week, in return for approximately 240 staff hours of reference service per week
  • Cost-savings through group purchase of software and marketing materials
  • Thousands of hours of staff time saved by obviating the need for each library to schedule, train, market, and coordinate their own virtual reference service

1C. Operational Benefits for Participating Libraries

Libraries receive additional benefits associated with BC ELN coordination of the AskAway service by allowing them to provide a service that they could never offer independently.

  • Access to the BC ELN communications infrastructure for planning purposes, budgeting, and managing change
  • Ongoing training and technical support for AskAway chat reference software
  • Participation in advocacy, lobbying, leadership, and collaborative efforts as taken on by BC ELN
  • Participation in the governance structure which shapes and steers the service
  • Risk avoidance in the event of a disaster by maintaining access to reference service if on-campus service is compromised

2: Participating Library Requirements and Responsibilities

The following library requirements and responsibilities apply for the entire AskAway year, from September through August. 

AskAway participating libraries must:

  • Be a BC ELN Partner Library, meeting membership requirements for BC ELN Partner Libraries
  • Provide appropriate staffing to the AskAway service as set out in the current staffing commitment model
  • Provide a yearly AskAway Service Support fee as determined by the Advisory Committee and set out in the current cost-sharing model
  • Have adequate electronic resources available for learners and AskAway service providers to facilitate the online reference experience
  • Ensure the library's website is readily accessible for the institution's own learners and for AskAway service providers
  • Have an online library catalogue accessible to off-site users and AskAway service providers
  • Have on-site reference available so that AskAway supplements existing services

3: Remedies for Institutions Facing Service Challenges

By participating in AskAway (i.e. placing links to AskAway on the library website and staffing AskAway), libraries are understood to have read and agreed to the above responsibilities. While full participation is always the preference, it is understood that periodically a partner library may face staffing and financial challenges that impinge their ability to fully meet their base staffing commitments and base service support fees.

3A. Short Term Staffing Shortfalls

In cases of acute, short term staffing issues, institutions should, as a first step, contact the AskAway Administrative Centre. The AskAway Advisory Committee will consider and present suitable short-term remedies. The following short-term options are available to institutions:

  • Work with another institution(s) to trade shifts between AskAway Sections (e.g. Institution A takes on some number of shifts for Institution B during Section 3, and Institution B takes on the same number of shifts for Institution A during Section 1)
  • Work in partnership with the AskAway Administrative Centre to schedule their quota of hours across the year, rather than on a Section by Section basis (e.g. Institution A cannot staff some hours in Section 3; those hours can be transferred to Sections 1, 2, or 4)
  • Provide compensation instead of staff hours for one instance of an AskAway Section. This option is not available on an ongoing basis (e.g. Institution A provides compensation in Section 3 in one year and resolves their staffing issues by Section 3 of the following year)
  • Request a short term release from their commitment or partial commitment for one instance of an AskAway Section in order to work towards resolving the staffing shortage. This option is not available on an ongoing basis.

Institutions are welcome to hire contract staff at any time to assist with meeting their base staffing commitments. AskAway service provider competencies are listed in the Service Guidelines.

3B. Short Term Financial Shortfalls

In cases of short-term financial challenges, institutions should, as a first step, contact the AskAway Administrative Centre. The AskAway Advisory Committee will consider and present suitable remedies. The following short-term options are available to institutions:

  • An exemption period of one (1) year would be offered to institutions in order to stabilize internal funding to achieve full participation the following year.
  • An exemption from the service fee would be offered with corresponding compensation set out in staff hours for the library to fill in exchange. These hours would be where they are available and required by the service.

3C. Long Term Staffing or Financial Shortfalls

The Advisory Committee is responsible for decisions regarding institutions facing chronic staffing or financial issues that cannot be resolved under 3A or 3B.

4: Providing Notice

In the event that an institution can no longer participate in the service, the institution must provide notice 12 months in advance of the date of withdrawal to allow sufficient time to accomodate staffing shortages. This withdrawal would include removing links from institutional websites, removing marketing of the service to their community, and removing their institutional link from

If a library achieves staffing and financial stability, they are welcome to return to the service.