Emma the MPL Catbot is the Mentor Public Library’s virtual reference librarian. Emma helps our patrons by answering their questions about the library and by directing them to other online resources. (She just started answering reference questions, too!) Keeping with the long tradition of library cats, Emma has the appearance of a Maine Coon.
When Emma first appeared November 19, 2009, she answered a dozen pre-programmed FAQs. Six weeks later, her first artificially intelligent version went live. Since then, her knowledge has been increased to include library services, policies, hours and directions, links to online demos, and to other websites and databases. She has recently started passing searches to outside databases, opening a new window, and displaying the results. Developing virtual reference is a top priority at MPL; we are very excited that the Akron-Summit County Public Library is now working in partnership with us to further develop and implement this technology and will soon have a “Catbot” of their own.
Public response has been encouraging; Emma regularly receives marriage proposals and has accumulated quite a number of fans. Virtual reference has connected our library with a new group of users and has helped us to maintain services in a very tough economy.