Aspen Discovery

Add a Chat Box to Aspen Discovery for Reference Services at a Distance

This blog post will give you an idea of what Live Chat software platforms are available and how to enable them on Aspen Discovery. Shopping around for your new chat tool can be fun. Expanding your library's virtual reference repertoire can also be fun!

Library Live Chat Platforms

Let's start out with the Chat Platforms specifically tailored to libraries. You've likely heard of these before:


An Ask a Librarian software platform that unifies real-time website chat, searchable knowledge bases, email, and text messaging. It offers flexible staffing from your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. It's been around for years and allows your patrons to chat anonymously.

Springshare's LibChat

Part of the Springshare's Platform of various tools for libraries this seems to be an option with the LibAnswers suite.

Mosio for Libraries

This is Virtual Reference Software with All-in-One Patron Support Software: Chat + Text Messaging + Email + Facebook.

Your social media platforms - use what you've got!

While not necessarily embedded in Aspen Discovery you can direct patrons to the social media platforms you already use. Encourage them to engage with your content and ask questions. Make placards about your Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms and why people should connect with you there.

Facebook Messenger

If your library has a Facebook account/Business page why not use it to chat with your patrons? Here's a snapshot of what it looks like on ByWater's Facebook page.


Why not have your patrons Tweet their questions? You can encourage patrons to engage on Twitter like a crowd-sourced FAQ's and announcement page. There's no anonymity but great visibility; patrons can see what questions have been asked about e-resources, curbside pickup, video-storytime, virtual book clubs, and get consistent answers.

Live Chat Software/Business World Software - Why consider it?

First, Most of these chat platforms have "Free trial periods" or free "Basic" accounts that advertise taking less than 5 minutes to set up. They allow you to test drive the software without a contract or commitment. Then the paid options offer more chat agents, app integrations, reporting features, even Video live chat to help make that human connection.

Second, The software is designed for customer service and on-demand communication, but with the option to continue the conversation. Some provide inboxes/ticketing systems so if you can't find all the answers for your patron during the chat you can keep track of the request and follow up later. You can email transcripts of your reference discussion to the patron or another staff member who may have the expertise that patron needs.

Third, You can't be at the reference desk 24/7 so these chat boxes give website visitors the option to submit a question when you are away. You tell the Chat service where to email it.

Used by one of our partners and it is free. According to their website makes it easy to deliver personalized and real-time customer service. It Monitors traffic on your website and be there when visitors need you most. You can proactively initiate a chat with your website visitors and app users.


ByWater Solutions uses it! This chat service is available at a reasonable price. You can have one or several "Chat Agents" conducting simultaneous chats. It's designed to be convenient with responses shortcuts (i.e. "Hi how can I help?" and "Curbside pickup hours are ...") and is totally browser-based. It has "Set it and forget it" reports that can be sent to you automatically if you need to track library usage stats.

Mibew Messenger

Also known as Open Web Messenger, this is an open-source live support application written in PHP and MySQL. It enables one-on-one chat assistance in real-time directly from your website.


Consistently scores highly on the "Top Live Chat" listicles. HubSpot CRM (Customer Relations Management) is "free" and comes with tools for marketing, sales, and customer service. Free live chat is part of that package. There are also paid/premium features that allow more chat agents and options.


Noted for its multilingual chat features! Customers/Patrons can see your chat widget in their preferred language based on browser settings. Other solutions charge extra for this feature. The first Chat Agent is free and there's a monthly/annual subscription to add more agents.


This platform prioritizes voice and video chat as much as standard, text-based live chat. Speaking from experience the best reference interview is the ones where you can be personable, see expressions, and share your screen to demo how to do something.

A brief note about Slack, Zoom, Skype, and other Chat+Video platforms.

These are really popular communication platform for teams where everyone who chats has their own account, but they are not designed for anonymous or on-demand virtual reference services, in my opinion. Some of these Live Chat Software options do integrate with Slack, Zoom, Skype, etc and that could be a great solution for your library if you are already using these team-based tools.

Now, this is just a shortlist of the myriad Live Chat Software options available. Please go out to your favorite search engine and take a look at the top 10 or top 20 live chat options lists for yourself and choose what will best meet your library's needs and budget. Also, ask other libraries what they are using and why they like it!

Virtual Reference Services Best Practices

Choice of a Chat Software is just one small part of what's known as Virtual Reference Services. What need or problem does adding a Chat Box to your Public Catalog or Website solve? What Problems does it create? Who staffs the Chat program and when?

I recommend taking a look at ALA and PLA's resources on Virtual Reference. They're a bit vintage (shout out to AOL instant messenger!) but the core ideas have not yet gone the way of the Dodo bird.

Virtual Reference Selected Annotated Bibliography

ALA Wiki on Virtual Reference

PLA Resources on Virtual Reference

RUSA Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services

How to implement it In Aspen Discovery!

Once you have your chat platform picked out it's time to add it to the Aspen Discovery site. It will be available to your patrons on every page. Log into Aspen Discovery as an administrator to access Primary Configuration > Library Systems and then choose which configurations should have the chatbox. If your library is a consortium with different libraries, each with different chat boxes, then don't worry! Each library with its own configuration can use their own chat. Click Edit.

Scroll Down until you find Sidebar Links. This is where you will add your code snippet. This code will be given to you as part of the Set-Up process with whichever chat platform you choose. Have your Chat Platform settings open in another tab to quickly copy this snippet over to Aspen. It will look something like this:

<!-- begin chatbox code -->
<script type="text/javascript" async> ;
(function(c,h,a,t,b,o,x){if(o.chatbox)return; r="script";y=l.createElement(r);r=l.getElementsByTagName(r)[0];
y.async=1;y.src="//"+a;r.parentNode.insertBefore(y,r);{k.s.push(arguments); y.extend=function(i,j){y("extend",i,j)}; y.identify=function(i){y("identify",k.i=i)}; y.configure=function(i,j){y("configure",i,j);k.c[i]=j}; })(window,document,"");
/* custom configuration goes here ( */
<!-- end chatbox code -->

You can give the Link Text a name like "ChatBox" and add the code to the HTML Contents. (You won't really be able to view/edit the HTML after pasting it in since the text box is small.) Now, remember to Save Changes.

When you reload Aspen Discovery the chatbox will appear. I suggest checking out the examples provided by the chat services, or visiting other Partners' Discovery sites to get a true to life example of how the chat box will perform.

Finally, if you have any questions about these steps or want help adding a live chat box to your site just contact ByWater Support. We're here to help!

Read more by Margaret Hade

Tags chat, reference, Discovery