Interview with Pingsheng Chen, Worcester Public Library

Last week, I had a very awesome Thursday morning at the library.  One of the people I was most looking forward to talking to was Pingsheng Chen, Electronic Resources and Virtual Reference Supervisor. 

Twitter & Facebook
I first wanted to compliment her on the totally awesome Twitter feed she puts together and asked her how she does it.  I may have some of this wrong, but here’s the basic gist:

  • She has the library Events Calendar automatically update the library’s Twitter account via TwitterFeed.  So, if you follow the library on Twitter, you’ll automatically know what’s happening that day.
  • She also posts special articles of interest and library news items on the library’s Facebook account, which then updates the  Twitter account.

I asked her how she selects articles to link to.  She loves The Book Bench, The Millions, and 52 Stories.  (I found out about the last two from the library’s Twitter account, and now they’re in my feed reader.)  She tries to pick items she thinks have a broad interest or are something you might not have read about elsewhere.

Right now, the library has about 320 followers on Twitter and 256 fans on Facebook.  Please consider following the library on one (or both) platforms.  You’ll not only get updates on what’s going on at the library, but you’ll get a lot of interesting reading about books.  (And, while you’re at it, follow WorcesterDPW&P on Twitter, too.  There’s a lot more than trash collection on that feed!)

Ask a Librarian Service
Pingsheng and I also talked about all the options in the Ask a Librarian service.

You can always call the library (508-799-1655, then press 3) during regular library hours for reference questions, but the library has three other ways to ask questions, especially outside of regular library hours.

Email.  You can ask a reference question via email.  This is a great way to ask those questions that come to you at three in the morning and which don’t require an immediate answer.

Text Messaging.  The WPL participates in a collaborative reference service (of about 70 libraries) that allows you to text your question and get a response from a reference librarian.  The hours are Monday-Friday from 9am-11pm, and Saturdays from 10am-6pm.  Your question will be answered by a reference librarian at one of the member libraries, and Pingsheng said that it’s usually extremely quick.  She also encourages people who use the service to follow the instructions, especially putting “WPL” in your message so that they can track Worcester Public Library patrons who use the service.  If they look at this by obviously Central MA area code, 20 patrons used this two months ago, and 40 used it last month, so the numbers are growing.

Chat with a librarian.  The Worcester Public Library is partnering with the Springfield Public Library to offer live chat with a librarian Monday-Friday from 3:00-5:30pm.  (You can also enter a question & our email address in the chat box at any time and a librarian will return your message.)  This chat box can be downloaded onto your iPhone, Android or Palm device.  (Pingsheng showed me the chat box on the iPhone and it was pretty cool!)

The goal of the different methods (phone, email, chat, and texting) is to reach as many people as possible.  There are some people who live, eat, and breathe text messaging — so, for those people, texting a librarian would be a great fit.  For the selective luddites (like me) who don’t have a cell phone, the live chat or phone might be a better choice.  But the goal is the same: to have access to a reference librarian who is looking at real reference materials and doing real research (and not just relying on my method of choice, Wikipedia…)

Bottom line
Many people have the perception that the library is only in the book-lending business and only employs spinsters who wear their hair in a bun.  Those people have not walked into the Worcester Public Library in the past five years, they haven’t visited the library website, and they really need to meet Pingsheng Chen.  She is incredibly passionate about the ways librarians can help people get reliable information, and the importance of being flexible enough to meet people in the platform(s) they prefer.  I look forward to seeing what she does in the future with the digital side of the library!

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