Virtual Reference Services

Our Services

What is Virtual Reference?

Sojourner Truth Library (STL) defines Virtual Referenceas instructional and research services that are delivered away from the traditional Reference Desk, where the librarian and patron are not engaged in face-to-face communication within the same physical space. These services may be synchronous (where librarian(s) and patron(s) may dialogue in real time) or asynchronous (where the parties are not communicating in real time). What Virtual Reference services does the library offer?

Depending upon the patron, Sojourner Truth Library offer a wide range of remote services, including phone, Email (known as ASK A LIBRARIAN) and real-time Chat (called Ask Us 24/7). Both college community members (enrolled students, faculty & staff) and members of the general public may connect with STL via phone and via our email Ask-A-Librarian service (see the policies below for the types of questions that are addressed). The Ask Us 24/7 chat service is available only to current members of the college community.

Our Virtual Reference services are process oriented: whenever possible, the librarians instruct patrons by referring them to appropriate resources and services, and assisting them with information retrieval, rather than providing answers. Librarians often provide tutorials and supporting material to aid remote users in finding and evaluating information on their own. STL's Virtual services employ its electronic and print collections, as well as Web-based resources as appropriate. Some Internet services are available to non-SUNY New Paltz researchers on a limited basis: only authorized users will be given access to our licensed databases and content.

STL's Virtual Library services are staffed by professional librarians who are members of STL's library faculty. Although the librarians will make every effort to answer questions in a satisfactory manner, this does not guarantee that every question can be answered. STL's Virtual Reference services are not a comprehensive research program, nor a document delivery service. In the case of in-depth questions, a librarian may suggest that the patron make an appointment to work with a librarian for an extended period of time, or refer the user to another librarian or service.


Who may use our Virtual Reference Services?
College community members (enrolled students, faculty & staff) may connect with STL via phone and via the email Ask-A-Librarian service (see the policies below for the types of questions we address). Additionally, SUNY New Paltz Distance Learners ONLY are invited to send queries by FAX. Ask Us 24/7 is available only to current members of the college community.

Members of the College Community
STL defines members of the college community as currently-enrolled students (including Distance Learners), current faculty and staff. These patrons may connect with the STL virtually by phone, email (ASK-A-LIBRARIAN), or chat (Ask Us 24/7). Some patrons may be eligible for additional services: please contact the library for further information. Members of the college community may access our email and chat services from any Internet connection, including workstations from within the library. Librarians will address queries regarding, but not limited to,
  • STL collections and services, including the availability of an item
  • research advice and assistance
  • answers to short, factual questions
  • database access
  • full-text article accessibility
  • citation and style

The library's Virtual Reference services will not answer factual "homework" questions, trivia contest questions or genealogical queries. The library will not provide writing assistance, nor will it compile resource lists (i.e., bibliographies) for patrons. It will not provide document delivery of any kind without special provisions. Librarians may refer patron queries to other STL or campus entities, with the patron's permission.

The librarian reserves the right to terminate any chat or email transaction due to bad language by the patron. STL's Virtual services are intended to complement, not replace, its traditional reference services. College community members are encouraged to use the library's other research services, including Library Instruction and in-person individual- and group- consultations.

Members of the General Public
Members of the general public may use our email ASK-A-LIBRARIAN service, provided their questions pertain to STL's collections and services. Examples include, but are not limited to,
  • Library hours, programs & services
  • Collection-based questions e.g., availability of an item, using the catalog
  • Questions about SUNY New Paltz and environs, as time permits

The library reserves the right not to pursue answers to trivia contest questions, genealogical queries, or provide term paper assistance to members of the general public. In some cases, a librarian may refer the patron to another resource or service. Licensing restrictions do not permit the librarians to provide the general public with access or materials from subscription databases. Members of the general public may access STL's subscription tools from within the physical library only. Please consult our Hours page for STL's open hours.

This service is not intended to provide extensive research or to create resource lists (e.g., bibliographies) for patrons. It does not include faxing or otherwise sending articles or other materials to patrons.

Members of the general public are strongly encouraged to seek out research services from libraries that are physically closer to them, as well as from online libraries. New York State residents should consider the Ask A Librarian service of the New York State Library []

May I access STL's licensed databases?
All users may access the library's online catalog. However, STL provides other electronic resources to the college community through contractual agreements with database vendors. Under the terms of these contracts, access to subscription databases and their contents may be limited to members of the college community only. These users are authenticated by the library and campus networks using a New Paltz Computer User ID (NPCUID). The Academic Computing department provides NPCUIDs to eligible members of the academic community: questions regarding NPCUIDs should be addressed to them []

SUNY New Paltz complies with the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Making a single copy of a text file (e.g., an article) stored in a subscription database for the use of study, scholarship or research is permissible under the Fair Use doctrine. However, unauthorized access to or illegal downloading, transmitting and sharing of copyrighted digital works (e.g., files, software, images, music, video, etc.) over the campus network violate the DMCA. Copyright infringements may result in termination of access to library and campus networks, and/or being subject to legal actions from the university. For more information, visit []


What personally identifiable information will be collected when I use STL's Virtual Reference services?
Your privacy is an important concern. Patrons should aware that the library collects some personal information in order to provide services. When users log into some services, they will be asked for a NPCUID username and password; while STL's servers do not collect login information, they do collect the date and start/end times and length of a transaction, as well as the user's IP address. During a transaction, ASK-A-LIBRARIAN or Ask Us 24/7 users may be asked for their information including, but not limited to their name, email address, class standing, the class to which the research question pertains, and/or telephone number. STL also stores Email and chat transcripts: these are kept for a period of 90 days, and are used for the purposes of followup and as an assessment of our services. After that time, the transcripts are deleted. Only librarians who are directly involved with Virtual services are permitted to access server logs and transcript files. None of this personal information will be shared or sold to and third party, or surrendered to authorities unless under legal process.

At the conclusion of a real-time Ask Us 24/7 session, the patron will receive a copy of the session transcript (usually by email). Librarians are required to save the transcript for the purposes of program assessment. These transcripts will contain whichever personally-identifiable information was required during the session. This information will be deleted from the transaction upon patron request. Patrons should be aware that librarians may transfer or forward queries to other STL staff for additional assistance. STL will inform you when an email or chat transcript is forwarded, and to whom. STL will not forward patron e-mails or chat transcripts to third parties without obtaining the patron's permission first. If you are concerned about your privacy with regards to these services, or if you do not wish to have any identifiable information retained by STL, please contact the library via our online Suggestion Box.

Client Satisfaction

How do I inform STL if the service was helpful?
STL welcomes your feedback and continued collaboration. Patrons may send feedback regarding reference transactions through our online Suggestion Box or by sending followup ASK-A-LIBRARIAN e-mails. Also, many of STL's librarians are happy to provide you with their contact information or refer you to other subject experts for further assistance. Please feel free to connect with them, and let them know how your research is progressing.