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LibAnswers (Ask Us!) Guide for Library Staff & Librarians: Tiered Reference

Getting Started on your Virtual Reference Shift

meme cat we're not done

Tiered Reference here is based on Metro's version, but holds slight differences. LMT approved the first version of LibAnswers Tiered Reference in August 2018.

Intro to LibAnswers Tiered Reference

Best Practices and Protocol for Librarians and Staff Directions for Staff: When do questions go to the librarians?

Use this version of the READ Scale to determine what you are expected to know as a library employee. All staff are expected to answer level 1 and 2 questions. Level 3 and questions may be answered by part-time staff based on their comfort level and the complexity of the question, but they should at least attempt to try to answer the question and then verify that the patron needs additional help beyond their abilities to answer before involving another employee. Full-time staff/CTLs are expected to answer these and not forward unless more help is needed (see box on the right). Part-time staff can forward these levels to CTLs/full-time staff before a librarian depending on their comfort level with the question, but they do not require a librarian. Level 5 and 6 questions require forwarding to a librarian from part-timers and full-timers because they meet 2 of the requirements listed in the box to the right.

Reference Effort Assessment Data (READ) Scale breakdown:

1. Answer requires no specialized knowledge skills or expertise. (Examples: When do you close? Does the NEC campus have a Writing Center? What is interlibrary loan?)

2. Answers require more effort than the first category, but require only minimal specific knowledge. (Examples: What does this call number mean? Where do I search for books online? How do I renew my ILL?)

3. Answers require some effort and time. Using reference material may be needed. (Examples: How can I tell if an article is peer-reviewed? Where can I find this article? How do I find ebooks?

4. Answers require the consultation of multiple resources. (Examples: My instructor said to use Ebsco and JSTOR to find an article but I am not sure why I am getting no results for my topic, can you help me? How do I get a copy of a chapter from this book? Where could I go to get topic ideas for my research paper?

5. Answers require specialist and evaluation of resources. (Examples: I found three resources on Google Scholar but I’m not sure they're what my instructor wants me to use for my assignment. Can you review them or help me find different ones? Or, Can you find the articles this book references in its bibliography and teach me how you did it? Or, My instructor told me that the three sources I found did not work and that I also need 3 ebook sources and a source from a government database but I'm not sure where to go.).

6. Answer requires the most effort and follow up information may be required. (Examples: I am an instructor who needs a rare manuscript that doesn’t show up in Discovery interlibrary loan options as well as the ability to digitize it for my online class. Can you do that for me? Or, I am a student and the ILL Librarian cancelled my request. The reason why doesn't make sense to me and I need it as a resource or to choose another resource. Can you help?)

Adapted from:


  • Librarians are not on chat to grab questions first, but are on chat as backups or to monitor their direct chat channels ("department") to be available for their classes (especially online students). Staff are still the frontlines of chat and will filter out questions just like at a circulation desk. It is preferred that if a librarian is needed to answer a question, you turn it into a ticket for any librarian to grab as they are able, rather than transferring the chat to them or assigning the ticket to a specific librarian. The expectation is that staff need to grab chat questions first to see if it is a question they can answer, asking clarifying questions to be sure it needs to be forwarded. 
  • To motivate librarians to be on virtual reference, if a chat or ticket takes longer than 5 minutes to answer they can count it as a research consultation for their consultation stats (approved by LMT in 2018). Librarians, please still record the transaction in LibAnswers' Ref. Analytics, not just LibInsight, so we can keep stats on how the VR system is being used. This also applies for tickets and emails sent to them personally (use your best judgment on how to estimate the time) outside of the system.
  • If a chat question comes up and it pings more than 4 times, yet no staff picks it up, it is assumed that staff are busy helping patrons in other methods or did not remember to set their “Away” status, so any Librarians logged into chat need to pick up the chat question. They can use the Call for Backup buttons, asking people to refresh at their stations. 

Part-time Staff:

Part-time staff are only held responsible for questions that come in via SMS and chat. Full-time staff members and librarians will respond to all other ticket questions. Exception: if you are a part-timer who works evenings and weekends and have been given access, answer ticket questions to the best of your ability. At the very least, reply to the patron with a link to an appropriate help (FAQ link, research guide, etc.) and explain that you have referred it to a librarian who will be in contact as soon as possible.

Not sure who to assign it to? You can leave the ticket on the general queue/assign to no one and whoever sees it first the next business day can claim it and see your previous response for context. Be sure to unclaim the ticket and/or submit it as "Open" if the patron continues to respond to the same thread. 

Computer Support Assistants (CSAs):

Library tiered reference for "Computer Support Assistants" (CSAs):

Please note that any chats that come in about computer support can be directed to Kenneth Loveland, Natalie Manke, Stella Harrison, and Seth Yarbrough. If they are logged in, you can transfer the chat. If it is after their working hours in the evening, you can tell the patron you are assigning a support ticket to a Computer Support Assistant and they will get back with them. You can also just assign the ticket back to the Library department at large if you aren't sure who should grab the ticket (if someone is out that day, etc.) and the next available CSA can grab it.

Hotspot and Student Laptop Loan Program: Natalie Manke is the main contact. 

For information on how to assign tickets and turn chats into tickets, see this page of the LibAnswers LibGuide. The typical hours of the Computer Support Assistants are below:

  1. Seth 12-4p, M-F 
  2. Natalie 7:30-3:30pm M-F
  3. Kenny  Monday & Thursday 9-6pm 
  4. Stella 12-4 M-F 

Cleaning up Ref. Analytics - Don't Leave Blank Stats!

shows ref. analytics options

Transfer Chat Questions to someone else or to other departments/department users logged in

Here is a how-to from Springshare.

It is good practice to also internally let the other employee in the other department know you are trying to transfer the chat so they have context, and so you can make sure they are really available. If it's just to the entire department (anyone available in that department currently), you might not need to. Also, let the patron know what you are doing so they do not think you have abandoned the conversation. You cannot create a ticket for another department because the library is the only department with a ticketing system (called a "queue"). 

internal chat

Chatting internally (with co-workers) on the new chat interface: Keep in mind that, unlike in the classic view, the internal chat will ding only one time (for every message sent), not continually until you pick it up. If you see a chat on the dashboard and think a chat was grabbed after hearing a ding, you might double check and scroll down to make sure it wasn't actually an attempted internal chat. An internal chat will look like this and they are hard to miss, especially if you think the sound was a chat and assume it was just grabbed or that the patron left (see left - number in red).

Likewise, if you are the one trying to chat internally with someone, send another message to create another "ding" for your co-worker to notice. Amanda will change the sound for internal chats to help us differentiate. Up to 1/19/21 it was the same sound as a patron chat. 


READ SCALE 3, 4, 5, and 6s

Do NOT transfer to a librarian for follow up:

  1. Non-resource based directional questions (ex. "where is the writing center?" or "How do I check the status of my ILL?" ) READ SCALE #1
  2. Technical questions (example: MS Word, copier, MyTCC questions) READ SCALE #2 
  3. Simple reference questions that typically require one strategy to complete (ex. Finding a book on the industrial revolution or the question is answered in an FAQ you can link to and/or elaborate on for their particular situation). You might transfer this to a CTL instead until you are fully onboarded. READ SCALE #3

DO transfer to a librarian as a ticket for follow up when:

Patrons need a librarian when a) using the READ Scale, the question is either a #5 or #6, b) their assignment requires they meet with one, or c) their question meets TWO of the following bullet points. Depending on if the question meets two of these, you might need to contact a CTL instead of a librarian because these are #3 and #4s. Technical questions you cannot answer (like about Hotspots and laptops) can also be transferred to CSAs. Learn more about CSAs in another box. 

  • The patron question likely involves using multiple specialized sources (like databases, indexes, or reference materials), or will require educating on those special resources (ex. "I was told to use a library database but I do not know which to pick for my specific topic" - you can answer with information on how to use the limiters to find recommended databases on the A-Z list BY subject.)  - AND - 
  • The patron needs help with part of the process of research, such as forming a research question, selecting a topic, or generating keywords (ex. "I am not getting any results when I search for my topic in JSTOR" - you can answer by testing JSTOR yourself to make sure it is working or suggesting different search terms) - AND - 
  • A patron has resources but needs some sort of mediation/evaluation of resources (ex. "I found this source in Google Scholar, how can I be sure it's peer reviewed?" - you can link to information about peer-reviewed articles found in the FAQ)  - AND -
  • The patron asks for a librarian specifically. (!) Note that sometimes patrons think they need a librarian to help them, but they don't. Be sure you understand their needs before creating a ticket for a librarian. Otherwise, attempt to make sure it's not something you can help them with or give context for and let them know about our Schedule a Research Consultation link where they can book on their own and then offer to make it into a ticket if they still need information (ex. "Is a librarian on chat?" - you can say "I might be able to forward this to one, but could I know your question?") - AND - Repeat. 

If their question only meets one of these, attempt to answer it to the best of your abilities and ask them if they still have questions. Doing so could turn the interaction to a #5 and #6 on the READ Scale. 

Process for forwarding a question to a librarian:

1. Tell the patron you will have to forward their question and create a ticket. 

2. Unless a specific librarian is needed (maybe due the an assignment a specific librarian is doing with a class, an ILL question, or an OER question), just assign it to the general queue (right click to open in tab for expanded view): 

create ticket example

If it is an SMS question that came in over chat, you will have to go to the LibAnswers Dashboard to assign the question or unclaim the ticket. Librarians will be able to see your message history for context.

Push that button!

Remember: don't be afraid to use the Call for Backup Button on the LibAnswers Dashboard if there's not enough people on chat. Using it reminds others to log in if they forgot or asks them to refresh settings in case there was a glitch. 

Salt-N-Peppa encourage woman to push it

Members button on the LibChat Dashboard: Some librarians are logged on even outside of their campus coverage times. But, be sure to check that they really are monitoring the Library's chat, and not just their personal chats for a class or consultation, before contacting them (they might be busy with an online class). You can check this in the new chat interface by selecting "Members" by the Department name (learn more about this and how to change what you are monitoring here): 

members button and popup


Notice that Marianne is online, but not for the department. That means patrons are free to only chat with her from her profile (get links to librarian profiles in the staff directory) and only she will be able to grab chats that go through this profile widget (given out to classes and students sometimes): 

Marianne's profile

Everyone else who is "green" can grab Library department chats and are monitoring the library department chat. 

Screenshare ability (via Zoom):

The new LibChat interface has the ability to request a screenshare. This feature is to be used only for librarians as of 2020, because of privacy issues. It allows the librarian to create a zoom meeting quickly to demo what is on their screen. This is one way that chats can turn into research consultations for a librarian. 

Special Cases:

  1. Local free organizations and services (law, mental health, etc.):
  2. Legal Questions: We are allowed to show a patron where the legal resources are, and describe their functions. We do not offer legal advice or interpret the law. For legal advice, suggest they contact the Tulsa Bar Association (they offer 20 minute sessions for around 30 dollars) or direct them to
  3. Medical questions: We do not offer medical advice.
  4. Mental health questions: See TCC Wellness services: // From TCC Wellness services:  Jessica Heavin Director of Wellness Services 918-595-7269, Randii Harrald Health Promotions Coordinator 918-595-7270 Need help right away? Call the Student Assistance Program at 1-800-327-2251

Good to know:

Inappropriate Content/Spam in Tickets Reminders: If employees see a ticket on the dashboard with a suspicious or inappropriate subject, please mark it as spam so that the system learns to block such senders before deleting. You do not need to open or view suspicious content. A few relevant staff are being emailed copies of tickets. If you are unsure if it is a legitimate ticket, move it to spam and don't delete, but inform Amanda and/or a CTL about it so we can mitigate quickly. 

Breaking Down the Jargon

Quiz time! Final one! Woo hoo!

This is the last quiz! Part-time staff are done after they complete it. The next tab is for full-time employees & Librarians only. Refer back to this guide as needed! <3 

Metro Campus Library: 918.595.7172 | Northeast Campus Library: 918.595.7501 | Southeast Campus Library: 918.595.7701 | West Campus Library: 918.595.8010
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