January 27, 2017

Answerland: Student Etiquette & Class Use

As most of you know, Answerland is Oregon’s virtual reference service which allows users to get questions answered by librarians via chat, email, or text. The service is coordinated by the State Library and staffed by librarians in Oregon and other states. We link to it on the Find Information page on OSLIS (elementary, secondary), and students are making good use of Answerland, which is great. However, there has been an increase in problem behavior from K-12 users, and that is not great. Therefore, I am asking you to please remind teachers and students about proper protocol and etiquette when they use Answerland.

For Teachers and Library Staff

First, please explain to teachers and school library staff that Answerland is not set up to handle a full class logging on at one time. That’s because at any one time, there are only one to three librarians staffing the service, and it can take 20 minutes or more for librarians to provide a complete answer to a question. So when a number of students get on at the same time, most of them end up waiting in a queue.

If you want to demonstrate to students how to use the service, a better approach would be to determine as a class the question you want to ask, and while projecting the Answerland chat box, have one student engage with the Answerland librarian while the others watch. That way you can also coach appropriate responses. Then as students hit roadblocks in their research, they can individually use Answerland as the need arises.

If you want to give Answerland staff a heads-up about such a demo, contact Tamara Ottum via or this form.

The Schools page has great info for teachers and library staff on how to use Answerland with a class, and it links to some promotional materials.

For Students

Here is information to share with students:

  • The Answerland librarians can help students find resources such as websites, magazine articles, and books for their assignments and research projects. They try to share their search strategies, too.  
  • Encourage students to ask detailed questions:
    • Meh: I need help to learn about salmon. (What about salmon are you studying? You’ve probably found some information already, so what specific information do you need?)
    • Better: Hi. I am a middle schooler, and I am studying what has contributed to the decline of the salmon population in Oregon. I believe one factor is warmer river temperatures, but I cannot find a good article to support that argument. Will you please help me find information about that?
  • For homework problems, like if a student is having difficulty with an algebra problem, the librarian will not explain how to solve the problem. Instead, s/he will point the student to resources designed to help the student learn the concept. A paid service like Tutor.com will provide step-by-step help with homework like solving math problems and writing essays. Some public libraries subscribe to Tutor.com or a similar service, so check your public library’s offerings.
  • Beyond assignments, Answerland librarians can help with book recommendations and other fun things like game tips and song lyrics.
  • Often it takes at least 20 minutes to complete a transaction. Sometimes answers cannot be found instantly, so an Answerland librarian might ask students for an email address so someone can get back to them.
  • Remember online etiquette. Answerland librarians are real people. Manners are appreciated, and most often, inappropriate behavior can be traced. At a minimum, students should be respectful, specific, and patient.

Answerland is a great tool to help students with research projects and more. Please promote it, but please help teachers and students understand the best way to use it. Thanks for sharing this information widely.

Questions? Please ask. 


Jennifer Maurer
School Library Consultant
Oregon State Library

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