How to get library help virtually

At the FIMS Graduate Library, we try to answer your questions as quickly as possible. We monitor the inbox ( from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. But what if you need an answer immediately or outside of our service hours? 

For those occasions, we recommend using the Ask a Librarian chat service.  

Ask a Librarian is a collaborative virtual reference service, offered in English and French, that connects students, faculty members, and researchers with real-time library and research assistance through chat. The service is offered by Scholars Portal, the digital service arm of the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL). 

Chat operators are librarians from universities all over Ontario and are equipped to answer questions about all participating university libraries. This means you won’t always get an operator from Western, but your operator will have training in and access to Western’s library website, and resources.  

FIMS Graduate Library Student Assistants even participate in Ask a Librarian chat. Despite being librarians-in-training, our M.L.I.S. student assistants are valuable members of the Ask a Librarian team.  Being students themselves, they bring a unique perspective and sometimes a better familiarity with student needs than even the working librarians. And if the operator doesn’t know the answer to a chat question, they can reach out for help to our dedicated Virtual Reference Team for real-time assistance. 

What kinds of questions do people ask, you might be wondering? Rest assured, we receive every type of question. Right now, many are about library services affected by COVID: can I study in the library right now? How do I pick up the book I just requested? What is the turnaround time for digitization requests? Other questions include: can you help me find this article? Can you help me formulate a search strategy for my assignment? And the strangest question I personally received is: Can you come tell the student beside me that their food is too stinky? So, please don’t be shy. There are no dumb questions.  

But maybe you’re worried that chat operators will blab to your professor about your question. Good news! The personal information that you provide in order to use this service will be protected in accordance with FIPPA, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. We will not disclose any personal data we collect from you to any party in a manner that would identify you, except to fulfill your service request or where required by law. 

So, the next time you find yourself struggling to find an answer, consider using Ask a Librarian virtual chat. Operators are kind, understanding and eager to help. Even if you just need a pep talk to get you through your exam, Ask a Librarian is here for you.

Chat conversation with patron asking for exam pep talk
Pep talk via chat

As always, if you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic further, don’t hesitate to email us at