On Friday, March 24 2023, AskMN will celebrate its 15th birthday. As a seasoned teenager, AskMN has already experienced so much! A software migration and the pandemic were big changes. AskMN started out with 8 fledgling libraries in March, 2008 and has grown to over 40 public and academic libraries across Minnesota.
In the first fiscal year (March 24, 2008 - June 30, 2008), just a little more than one full quarter of life, AskMN answered a mere 440 questions. Since then, however, AskMN has answered over half a million questions! The very first question we received was from a student with Minnesota State University, Mankato looking for help on their paper that was due the following Monday and was frantic because the library had just closed and they were not having success finding information on their topic. We have had a lot of questions similar and not so similar to that since. The reference interview has evolved to the art of the online conversation but the basic understanding of asking those open-ended questions to fully understand the patron's need has not changed.
For those that like wordle images, here is what 15 years of questions look like this:
It is easy to see when the pandemic started. The first year of the pandemic saw the largest increase in usage. Surprisingly, libraries were not overwhelmed by this increase. With shifting responsibilities (pivots) and the support of the 24/7 Reference Cooperative, libraries answered the call from patrons. It should also be noted that at the same time as the pandemic AskMN was going through a software migration from OCLC’s QuestionPoint to Springshare’s LibAnswers (June, 2019 - May, 2020). We went live with the new platform two days after George Floyd’s murder on May 27, 2020. Thankfully, it was a seamless transition. It was the AskMN librarians behind the scenes that made sure AskMN stayed open and connected for Minnesota patrons at a very crucial time.
As the pandemic has waned and library doors reopened, AskMN is still a strong part of many libraries’ online services. AskMN began a partnership with St. Kate’s MLIS program in Spring, 2022 to offer a service-learning experience for library students as part of the LIS7040 G01 Information Access Services course. We will have our fourth iteration of this program as part of the course this summer. It is so fulfilling to introduce this program to a whole new community of future librarians and know they will have marketable and applicable skills at the ready for when they begin their careers. I look forward to the day when I get to meet these future librarians in the library world using the skills they have gained from their AskMN service-learning experience.
Fifteen years and 506,786 questions later, oh the places AskMN has gone! And the places yet to be discovered.