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Sarah Hammill's picture

Cathay Keough

Monday, April 28, 2014 - 9:00 am to Friday, May 2, 2014 - 9:00 pm

IAmRUSA Interviewee for the Week of April 28th is

Cathay Keough

Ask her a question!


Cathay Keough's picture

Hello!  I've been involved with VR for over ten years and am the Statewide Coordinator for Delaware's Reference Services.  This includes Ask a Librarian Delaware (chat/email, software = QuestionPoint; see:  http://lib.de.us/askalibrarian), from training to scheduling and quality...and everything in between.

Pew shows that library reference services are valued by our communities (http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/12/11/libraries-in-communities/), and yet, library reference services are changing.  We are seeing more questions about ebooks, new technology, job assistance, entrepreneurship.  How do you see changes with reference?  Do you see divisions of responsibilities in your libraries, with some staff answering ebook/tech questions and others handling homework help/research?  Or do you see a more blended type of service?

As with many library services, reference is a core service and is evolving.  What are your questions and thoughts about this? I look forward to hearing from you!


Cathay Keough Statewide Coordinator Delaware Reference Services Group (includes Ask a Librarian Delaware) and DLA Executive Director (cathay.keough@lib.de.us).

Kirk MacLeod's picture

Hi Cathay,

Would you mind telling us a bit about your educational background, and how it led to your current position?

Thanks for participating,


Cathay Keough's picture

Hello Kirk,

I'm glad you asked!  Actually, I think it might be relevant to add in a little more about my background, as it pertains to my interests and motivation as a library professional.

I started with library work as an undergraduate in the library at The Evergreen State College and then began studying to be a teacher/special ed teacher with the University of Oregon.  I thought my career path was a good fit, but after about halfway through the course I was glad I had an excuse to take a break...for a little more than 12 years (!) to be at home with my children.

I re-emerged into the library work through a local mayor who happened to be the manager of my nearest library branch.  She encouraged me to apply for the library outreach part-time job working with middle school children and after talking to my family, it looked like everyone was very supportive.  I applied and got the job, and developed the Books After the Bell program which incorporated library resources with activities to help promote a renewed love of pleasure reading.  It was great fun and challenging, and most importantly, it convinced me that I had indeed found my niche.

I began re-emerging into studies through Maryland's Library Associate Training Institute for those who have B.As and are considered library associates.  It felt so familiar and exciting, so I soon  started graduate school with Drexel University.  I graduated in winter of 2006, class of 2007. 

Drexel, like all library schools, gave me exposure to various paths, such as cataloging, web design and metadata and working with youth, scientists and engineers.  I attended professional conferences, such as through ALA and my annual state conference, to gain insight about what it would be like to do archive work, be a children's librarian or an administrator. 

There are what seemed to be endless possibilities for me, but they all led me back to my true passion:  reference services.  I am a big believer of the need for access to information and sharing resources, insight and tools to gain literacy (information and digital literacy included), with a foundation in information ethics.

Drexel prepared me for this work in a few ways, and honestly I believe that the energy and motivation of the professor/faculty is the key!  I took some classes online and some in person and found this element to be the same either way.  The more the prof was engaged and engaging, the more I enjoyed the learning experience.  This is the bottom line for how I work as a reference librarian, too - the more I am connected with the library customer through asking questions, interacting, showing interest, the more engaged the customer usually is with me.  It creates a much more rewarding experience (in any format; telephone, email, chat, IM, texting, in person).

My current work encompasses all reference services on a statewide level, and all the varied journeys that can lead me to.  Generally on most days I work on a staff intranet (web work), am part of a social media team (marketing), train staff, provide professional development and lead regular meetings (staff development/administration), and work directly with patrons on chat/virtual reference.  And I do not do this alone; it takes collaboration and cooperation in order to get this accomplished.  It also takes supportive, well-grounded but visionary leaders who encourage thoughtful ideas to meet the changing landscape of our libraries and services, and the support to implement some of these ideas.

I consider myself lucky that I've had exceptional teachers, role models and leaders and hope I can provide this to others. 

Thank you again, Kirk, for asking!


Cathay Keough Statewide Coordinator Delaware Reference Services Group (includes Ask a Librarian Delaware) and DLA Executive Director (cathay.keough@lib.de.us).

David Tyckoson's picture


Could you tell us about the volume of traffic that you get through the cooperative reference service?  Delaware is a small state, but I imagine that there are still lots of questions that get asked.  Also, who answers them?  And how many do you personally respond to?  Do you have stats on questions by type (research, known item, policy/procedure, etc.)?

Thanks in advance,

Dave Tyckoson

Cathay Keough's picture

Hello Dave,

Libraries are evolving to meet the needs of our patrons; it's great to give everyone in our communities options for how to access our services and resources.   And you are right that Delaware is small (three counties with just under 1,000,000 people), which gives us quite an advantage in that we can involve all 32 public libraries and many of the academic, school and special libraries in so many ways.  For example, we have a statewide catalog...but let me give you a little history about the chat service and how it has changed in order to answer your questions.

OCLC/QuestionPoint is the software Delaware has used since 2003, when chat was first explored here.  For years it was called "AnswerOnline" and libraries were encouraged to explore its usefulness and adaptability as a way to help patrons and students.  At the same time, our State Librarian worked with many to develop a statewide catalog (we also have some shared databases).  Over these years we additionally saw the inception of ebooks. 

In 2010 I took the position as Statewide Coordinator for the chat service and a month later the statewide catalog went live.  For chat, we changed the name to Ask a Librarian Delaware, developed a logo and a strategy for training, scheduling, etc.  The first set of libraries/staff who provide an hour or two of chat a week went live on January 4, 2011.  Now, most of the public libraries in Delaware and a few of the academic and special libraries provide chat and participate in the service through following up on questions (email).

You might think that live interaction through chat is a no-brainer when it comes to how important it is for libraries to provide a variety of ways to access their libraries and services.  However, the reality is that not every library administrator or staff see it this way in their busy day-to-day work in their libraries.  Also, surveys show that customers learn about a library's chat service through that library's website - this may sound obvious but it's worth mentioning since placement on a site directly affects how much traffic one sees.

The amount of questions we see is very much determined by how the library promotes the service.  Statewide we usually receive less than 300 chat questions a month. 

Staff who have been trained (by me) on QuestionPoint software as well as best practices for question-answering provide chat; this can be a degreed or non-degreed reference librarian (I'm using "librarian" in a general way).  It's important to recognize that staff who provide question-answering in their libraries are trusted and valued by their supervisors; so why not have them provide this on chat?

We have also expanded our VR service to include email.  This is through a webform that is also in QuestionPoint, so that chat and email can be in one place, making it easier for stats, reports, quality review, and to help make sure nothing gets lost.  Following up on questions is essentially the same for the staff as answering questions through the webform.

My interactions vary depending upon need.  Sometimes I pick up a chat shift but most often I may follow up a few questions a week.

For your question about "types of questions" - this is very important!  It helps us understand what our customers' interests are, where we may have gaps in our collections, and keeps me tuned into training needs.  We began a formalized way to 'tag' questions in our VR using what QuestionPoint calls Descriptive Codes, and aligned this with our statewide reference tallying.  In Delaware, we have been catagorizing questions according to the Dewey Decimal system.  In case you'd like to see what we are moving toward, look at the Delaware Library's page on "We Geek the Delaware Dream" for the Dewey table to get an idea.  We're done with the Geek campaign now and are moving forward with tracking according to Dewey.  With changes like this, it takes a little while to see the patterns and we are just beginning to gain a picture. 

Tagging includes "library instruction," "account," and other useful categories, too.

I hope this gives you helpful insight about our service.  Thank you for asking!


Cathay Keough Statewide Coordinator Delaware Reference Services Group (includes Ask a Librarian Delaware) and DLA Executive Director (cathay.keough@lib.de.us).

Kris Johnson's picture

Hi Cathay. Thanks for your long, detailed answers here! Very informative. Quick question: What is your work space like? Do you have your own office? Do you work in a traditional library, or in a office-like environment?

Cathay Keough's picture

Hi Kris,

One of Cathay's Work placesSorry for the delay in getting back to you...we had Delaware Library Legislative Day this week!  It's such an important event and was well attended.  We were lucky to have Governor Markell's participation this time, too!

I love your questions about the physical environment!  In today's blended world  we can reach many through our computers but also need to be there in person (such as to attend meetings and provide trainings for reference services), and I have a few options and some flexibility in where I do my work.  I have office space with the Delaware Division of Libraries in Dover bur primarily enjoy the ability to use my home office.  (In the photo, you can see me in my home office with your question up on my computer monitor!)

My work takes me to many libraries around the state since I provide training and assist with professional development needs, and I appreciate that very much.   Meeting with and working with staff in libraries help me keep in touch with how I can help improve library services and I've been to most of the libraries in Delaware (and have a lot of miles on my car).  I think it's important to connect with each other in person; it makes all facets of our collaborative work three dimensional.  I don't want to lose the connection with front-line reality, and in turn, my presence helps people be reminded that virtual reference is an essential option for all reference services for our customers. 

Thank you so much for asking!  I'll see you online soon!




Cathay Keough Statewide Coordinator Delaware Reference Services Group (includes Ask a Librarian Delaware) and DLA Executive Director (cathay.keough@lib.de.us).

Kris Johnson's picture

Thanks Cathay. Great photo. You look very happy in your home office!

Cathay Keough's picture

It's always a pleasure talking/communicating with you Kris! 

Have a great week,


Cathay Keough Statewide Coordinator Delaware Reference Services Group (includes Ask a Librarian Delaware) and DLA Executive Director (cathay.keough@lib.de.us).