Virtual Enquiry Services

The Service

The Northern Collaboration has 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.

We piloted the service, with OCLC, for a 12 month period which ended May 2014. Following evaluation, we are delighted that the service is being extended in 2014/15 across the Northern Collaboration.

Our aim is 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 Is Involved?

  • 7 institutions took part in the pilot: Cumbria, Durham, Huddersfield, Leeds Beckett, Newcastle, Salford and Teesside (representing diverse mission groups and size). Sheffield Hallam also joined the pilot in May 2014.
  • Ongoing support is provided by OCLC’s QuestionPoint Product Manager and support has 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 is being extended to all members of the Northern Collaboration who wish to participate. Already 16 institutions have committed to joining, and several others are actively considering it.


Collaborative Working

The Northern Collaboration and OCLC are committed to working in partnership and this brings many benefits including:

  • Working together to develop and enhance the service for the future
  • Considerable cost savings to NC members
  • Collaboration in Quality Control
  • Collaboration in training for library staff

The project is unique in the UK and has attracted interest from other regional library collaborations/consortia and from SCONUL. There is an acknowledged potential for a shared Virtual Enquiry Service to be further developed as a regional and national service.

For further information please contact Russ Jones ( or Jackie Oliver ( For questions about the partnership or subscriptions, please contact Sue White ( or Liz Jolly (