An underused library asset


Shane Sher and his program have been around since 2006, which is, in the world of digital technology, several generations. In spite of that, Sher and his colleagues are amazed at how underused the publicly owned actually is.

Sher, the program coordinator, says that there has never been such a high level of current and comprehensive online tools freely available to the people of Rhode Island.

With help for just about any situation that arises, AskRI is a portal that can assist with fixing your car, remembering how to do long division, researching your family’s history or let you brush up on your Italian.

“We have, an online language-learning program that is easy to use and highly effective,” said Jeremy Ferris, who is program assistant for the Statewide Reference Resources Center. Mango offers from Arabic and Swahili to Italian and Spanish, as well as over a dozen English as a second language (ESL) courses.

“A lot of people say it’s better than the Rosetta Stone and,” he said with a smile, “it’s free!” offers online resources that provide access to a vast array of information, as well as access to live and real-time reference help from librarians and tutors across the state. Since the launch of the site, has served an average of 10,000 visitors a month. Reference librarians have answered over 3,000 questions by chat, and 500 questions by email.

In an age where diminished public service is something we have to get used to, AskRI is providing services that were not even available in the good old days. Students, for instance, can access, which connects them to qualified tutors who are available to provide live homework assistance from 2 to 10 p.m. LearningExpress offers practice tests and tutorials, including the SAT, the GED, or job certification preparation for careers in health, the military, plumbing, and more.

WorldBook Online is the well-known home and library staple available online and through other mobile devices. It is updated regularly, can be translated into over 30 languages, and is full of information for learners of all ages. Best of all, you don’t have to spend gas and time going down to the local library to use it.

The resources on offer a wealth of information to answer your questions about anything, simply or more in-depth.

AtoZDatabases brings valuable insights to consumers, established businesses and startups. Highly customizable searches connect to millions of businesses.

There is probably no field of inquiry that has benefited more from the digital revolution than genealogy. In the old days, you had to hire specialized researchers to trace your family tree. AskRI offers HeritageQuest, which provides genealogical information, searches through historical Census records, books of family and local histories, and an index of millions of articles that date from 1800 to 2009. In less than two minutes, a reporter used HeritageQuest to locate his grandmother’s Boston address in 1920, with all of his aunts and uncles listed by hand on a photocopied census form.

EBSCOhost links to journal articles, books and resources for students and scholars. You can look up health care information in Consumer Health Complete.

If you are new to the Internet or new to AskRI, videos and tutorials on YouTube are also available to help users as they explore the resources. (

Reference librarians are available 60 hours a week, Monday through Saturday, to respond to reference questions by online chat, email, or phone.

Rhode Island small businesses can get help in locating relevant forms and regulations. Families can find details about public parks or farmers’ markets. Additionally, AskRI organizes reliable and vetted links around topics that are vital for job seekers, students, librarians, educators, and learners of all ages.

Officially speaking, is the online portal for Rhode Island’s Statewide Reference Resource Center, in partnership with Providence Community Library. Funding is provided by the Rhode Island Office of Library Information Services, the Institute for Museum and Library Services and Ocean State Libraries in accordance with RI General Law 29-6-9).

Additional funding for statewide databases is provided through the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services and Ocean State Libraries.

Anyone can ask questions; such as how small businesses can locate relevant forms and regulations, or how fishermen can get licensed for the season.

“We also feature a comprehensive Job Seeker Center, which links to job posting boards and career tools, and a Health and Nutrition Center, with links to health care resources and insurance, nutrition, medical encyclopedias, and more,” according to a release from Shane Sher.

To many people of a certain age, the world of the Internet is fraught with peril. Otherwise intelligent people are taken in by fraudulent schemes that take advantage of people who are new to the World Wide Web, particularly senior citizens. AskRI offers a trustworthy introduction to the digital world. It is, after all, an online version of the branch libraries we all grew up with.

Around the turn of the 20th century, industrialist Andrew Carnegie realized that continued progress and advancement required a literate citizenry. He used his immense wealth to build small, local libraries across the country. It was probably the best gift Carnegie has ever given his adopted land. Generations of immigrants such as he have educated themselves in public libraries and it has become universally accepted that free public libraries are essential to life as we know it in this country. While many branch libraries have closed or cut back, AskRI offers a level of service we used to take for granted from our local libraries.

“All you need to access the resources and tools on AskRI is a computer or mobile device that can access the Internet,” said Sher. “When you are physically in Rhode Island, most of the databases and electronic tools, such as Homework Help, can be used without entering a username or password.”

Some features at AskRI do require more formal introductions. Mango Languages and Learning Express require that you first set up an account using your public or academic library card. If you are out-of-state, you will need to use your public or academic library card to access the databases and electronic tools.

If you don’t have a computer, mobile device or Internet, AskRI resources are easily accessible at your local public library. You can also call AskRI for additional details at 223-1200 or email or by contacting Shane Sher directly at, 223-1200 ex. 1950.

Sher is also available to come to your local library and speak to groups about the program and answer any questions you have. Ask your local library or group to contact Sher to set up a visit.

“The bottom line is, you already paid for this,” said Sher. “You already own it. This is a really good resource and you really ought to use it.”


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