Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
May 07, 2001
U of G Library first in Canada to offer new 'virtual' service
Canada’s first “virtual” university librarian was introduced today by the University of Guelph’s McLaughlin Library.
The new library reference service allows students to connect with a librarian via the Internet. They can ask questions, get ideas and advice and be guided through electronic sources. “It will be like sitting in the library, having someone over your shoulder showing you what to do,” said Jennifer Marvin, an information services librarian who helped spearhead the program. “But you can also teach people how to do things rather than just give them information. That’s the most powerful thing.”
Guelph acquired the Virtual Reference Desk Software, made by the U.S. company Library Systems and Services Incorporated, last year. It is already being used by more than 100 academic libraries in the United States. It is also being tested by Ryerson University, but Guelph is the first to “go live” with the service. It allows users to ask the “virtual librarian” questions through an interactive Web teaching program. It includes a chat-room feature, a Web screen that both the user and librarian can see and a guided tour of Web-based resources. At the end of each session, a transcript of the interaction is e-mailed to the student, including a list of suggested resources and the Web addresses of sites that were reviewed.
Guelph is testing the system this summer in four of its distance education courses, involving some 200 to 300 students. Librarians and library associates will take Internet “calls” from students 48 hours a week, split among daytime, evening and weekend hour. Plans call for extending the service to all users in the next year, and eventually collaborating with other Canadian universities using the system. “The student and faculty learning environment has changed so much,” said Helen Salmon, the library’s manager for social science and arts information. “Students are accessing our resources anytime from anywhere. This is our way of saying: ‘OK, we’re here, too.’” Marvin added that providing such a service was a logical step, given that libraries have become increasingly focused on electronic resources.
“But we haven’t been providing people who are using these resources from outside the library with the service they need,” she said. “It can be likened to opening the library up with no librarians in it and saying to people: ‘Go find what you need.’”