Virtual Enquiry Services

The Service

The Northern Collaboration worked with partners OCLC to develop the first higher education consortia model in the UK using the QuestionPoint webchat tool to provide an enquiry service in the evenings, at week-ends and bank holidays. Queries are answered by librarians in the USA.

NC piloted the service, with OCLC, for a 12 month period in 2013/2014. Following evaluation, the service was extended in 2014 across the Northern Collaboration, and subsequently launched by SCONUL as a national service. 

Our aim was to enhance the student experience and to provide a cost-effective, real-time out-of-hours enquiry service as well as to explore the benefits and challenges of working collaboratively. The Virtual Enquiry Service complements our existing services to provide 24/7 coverage.

Enquiries are answered by librarians in the OCLC 24/7 Reference Co-operative which comprises over 1000 members who are based mainly in the USA.

Who was Involved?

  • 7 institutions took part in the NC pilot: Cumbria, Durham, Huddersfield, Leeds Beckett, Newcastle, Salford, Sheffield Hallam and Teesside (representing diverse mission groups and size). 
  • Ongoing support was provided by OCLC’s QuestionPoint Product Manager and support was been provided to all participating institutions by the two project operational leads, Russell Jones (Leeds Beckett) and Jackie Oliver (Teesside).
  • From September 2014 the service was extended to all members of the Northern Collaboration who wished to participate. Subsequently, SCONUL was able to offer this to all members nationally. 


For further information please contact the SCONUL office -