OCEAN COUNTY, NJ - The physical library buildings may be closed throughout Ocean County. However, that doesn't mean patrons (and those without library cards) can't find nswers from live people. The only requirement is access to a computer or smart phone.

It's somewhat the equivalent of dropping into the local library to ask the librarian the answer to a pressing question. While nothing replaces the human interaction, the Ocean County Library's live, real-time chat/text services will have to suffice while COVID-19 social distancing requirements are in place.

"Chat/Text is optimized for most iOS and Android mobile devices," shared Tom Mongelli, Library Assistant. "Questions can be sent via text of up to 140 characters to 732-943-1625."

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Cell phone users are subject to standard message and data rates applied by their carriers. The service is available from Monday through Friday, 10 am until 2 pm.

Those who prefer to submit inquiries using their computers can initiate the chat function by visiting  http://theoceancountylibrary.org/chat-online. The service is compatible with most web browsers, including  Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 6 or higher, Firefox 1.5 or higher, Safari, and Opera.

Library officials stress that all questions are treated equally and kept confidential, as are patron identities. TAPintoBarnegat/Waretown decided to try the system out firsthand.

Within a minute of identifying ourselves in the computerized chat, the librarian on the other end was kind enough to share her identity. As luck would have it, Rachel Cantor, Librarian 3, and Branch Manager of the Barnegat Branch of the Ocean County Library was assigned our question. She assured us that the connection was entirely random and not assigned by zip code.

During her assigned hours, Cantor handles the same types of reference questions she works on in the library building. She also helps out when people want to make sure they're up on the latest works by their favorite author. Of course, Cantor also had information about library procedures, such as what happens when it comes to late fees.

"During the library closure late fee charges on items currently checked out will not be accrued and there is no need to worry about renewing. Please do not try to return any items while the library is closed, " typed Cantor. "The book drops are sealed and cannot be used. Please keep the items safe and continue to enjoy them until the library reopens."

Few would dispute that knowledge is an essential service. While the buildings are closed, it's refreshing to know that librarians are still working hard to point people in the direction they need for research tasks.

Cantor signed off with a reminder that the Ocean County Library updates its social media regularly. Look there to find the latest in virtual library services amid the pandemic.