AskColorado has the answers -- and more

Categories: Tech

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If you have questions -- and I know you have questions -- AskColorado, an online information service provided by Colorado libraries, is there to help. The 24/7 (holidays excluded) web service puts you in touch with a librarian via a chat interface similar to your basic instant-messenger client, and lets you ask your questions, upload files and receive links to resources on whatever topic you're curious about. When you're done, the service e-mails you a transcript of the session, so you don't even have to take notes.

At any given time there are at least two librarians waiting to help you; over the lunch hour, it only took me about a minute and a half to get connected with one named Marty. I tested him with a basic question about our area's history -- What was where Denver is before Denver was here -- and he responded with a link to a site that had a pretty comprehensive answer in under a minute. So I gave him something harder: What the hell kind of bug did I catch the other day?

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The second question was definitely a little harder. But after looking at the picture I uploaded, Marty helped me find a few insect identification websites. Then he directed me to a couple of books in the DPL catalog after making sure I had a card, so I could actually check them out; I assume he'd have offered instructions about how to apply for a card if I didn't have one. Finally, he told me that, in his opinion, my bug was probably an unusually long silverfish.Turns out it wasn't a silverfish, but I was able to figure that out with the help of the sites he mentioned.

Of course, I could have found those tools on my own -- but in the information age, when is that ever not the case?

AskColorado answers an average of 5,000 questions a month and is used about 55 percent of the time by K-12 students, although the librarians also hear from a lot of college students looking for help with research papers -- and probably a lot from lonely drunks at 2 a.m., too. And the service wisely focuses every bit as much, if not more, on telling users where to find tools that will help them discover their own answers, as opposed to simply providing an answer. And they run a Twitter feed (@AskColorado) that shares some of the comments and questions they get. One recent favorite: How many pounds does a newborn whale gain every day?

In addition to the portal to the service, the website also offers detailed statistics and info on the service itself, from its history to its funding. It's a pretty nice resource for when you're stuck on a topic or just need a quick bit of help or push in the right direction.

And that creepy-ass bug? It was a house centipede. Thanks, Marty.

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