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 July 01, 2003 [posted]
 Virtual Representative Provides 24/7 Access to NLM Information

drop cap letter for t he National Library of Medicine has launched Cosmo, a virtual customer service representative, developed by the NLM Reference and Customer Services Section using self-service interactive management software produced by NativeMinds of San Francisco, CA.

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Cosmo can be found at or at the Contact NLM Web site (see Figure 1). His job is to answer basic questions about the Library and its products and services.

  Figure 1: Ask Cosmo Home Page

Cosmo is familiar with the more than 200 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and nearly 100 Fact Sheets on the NLM Web site. He can answer questions about Library hours and parking; he can give directions to the Library; and he can list available databases.

In addition, Cosmo can refer users to the basic health information found in MedlinePlus, NLM's consumer health Web site. He can also answer drug-related questions with MedlinePlus drug information. If you ask Cosmo about one of the more than 600 health topics found in MedlinePlus, he will direct you to the appropriate Web pages on that topic. For example, the query, "What can you tell me about AIDS?" results in a listing of links to six different AIDS-related Web pages (see Figure 2).

  Figure 2: Ask Cosmo AIDS Query

Examples of questions Cosmo can answer are:

  • How do I get to NLM?
  • I need information on depression.
  • Where can I find older journal articles?
  • What is the latest library exhibit?
  • How do I participate in a clinical trial?

Examples of questions that are beyond Cosmo's scope are:

  • Can you help me do a literature search?
  • Can I purchase Cuviello's Reference Manual Volumes I and II here in San Jose?
  • How do I stop excessive sweating of the hands and feet?

Although the Ask Cosmo Web site has the appearance of a "live chat" page, there is no live interaction taking place. Cosmo uses NeuroScript® to construct topics that are answered by detailed pattern lists that match, as closely as possible, the content of the questions asked of him.

NLM Reference Staff continue to develop Cosmo's knowledge base. Staff constantly review his conversation logs, so that, when necessary, they can enhance or de-bug his response repertoire. By monitoring his performance, NLM Reference Staff enable Cosmo to become ever smarter with each new user question.

Adam Glazer
Reference and Customer Services

black line separting article from citation

Glazer A. Virtual Representative Provides 24/7 Access to NLM Information. NLM Tech Bull. 2003 Jul-Aug;(333):e2.


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Last updated: 19 April 2012