Has the Virtual University Library Truly Arrived?

By Helfer, Doris Small | Searcher, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Has the Virtual University Library Truly Arrived?


Helfer, Doris Small, Searcher


We all talk about the impending and emerging electronic library. We add electronic subscriptions and databases to enhance, supplement, and, in many cases, replace hard copy. We use electronic reference materials, some of which never existed physically in any library. There is increasing interest and demand for distance-learning courses for the convenience and time-savings it can offer. We know that even students in traditional schools often prefer to use library systems and services remotely. We proactively provide services that our students can use whenever and wherever they choose. The Web has made delivering online information easier and more convenient, and its content offerings continue to grow and expand. Our users' expectations rise to the fiction that everything is available on the Web. Although we know that is far from the truth today, as demand for electronic access to information continues to grow, as people realize the great potential for the quick and easy delivery of all kinds of information, t he rising demand may convert the fiction to truth. Dream it and they will come.

In 1998, Vicky Phillips and Cindy Yager authored a book, entitled The Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools: Earning Your Degree Without Leaving Home. It profiles 195 accredited institutions offering graduate degrees via distance learning. In this column I will profile the library of one such institution --the completely and totally electronic library serving Jones International University [http://www.jonesinternational.edu]. There is no physical place you can go to check books out from the Jones University Library. If predictions hold up, this trend will become more like a tidal wave in the coming years.

Jones International and Accreditation

Glenn R. Jones established Jones International University (JIU) in 1993 to provide Internet-delivered, undergraduate and graduate-level courses leading to a bachelor's or master's degree in Business Communication. On March 5,1999, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) gave JIU full accreditation. JIU was designed to meet the needs of students for whom pursuing an education within the traditional higher education structure simply wasn't feasible.

Typically, JIU students are working adults with limited time, making it difficult if not impossible to get an "on-campus" degree. They are usually well-motivated, self-directed learners comfortable with information technology and electronic communications. As part of enrollment requirements all students have access to computers that support high-speed data exchange (an extremely important consideration in designing access to the library's electronic resources).

The NCA's regional accreditation of Jones International University verified the university met rigorous criteria. NCA is one of six regional accreditation agencies that evaluate any and all institutions of higher education that apply for accreditation within a geographic region. Accreditation evaluation is guided by a defined set of evaluation criteria established by NCA, including numerous stages of team evaluation and on-site peer review and evaluation visitations.

During the planning stages for the development of JIU, their advisory board made a strong commitment to developing an electronic library that would support the activities of a campus-based academic library and promote information literacy as a means of supporting lifelong learning. In addition, the library followed the revised 1998 ACRL Guidelines for Extended Campus Library Services to ensure conformity with accepted academic standards. Approved by the ACRL Board of Directors at the 1998 Midwinter Meeting and by the ALA Standards Committee at the 1998 Annual Conference, the guidelines stipulate the standards for extended campus programs to which libraries should adhere. They base their recommendations on the following stated assumption:

Library resources and services in institutions of higher education must meet the needs of all their faculty, students, and academic support staff, wherever these individuals are located, whether on a main campus, off campus, in distance education or extended campus programs, or in the absence of a campus at all; in courses taken for credit or non-credit; in continuing education programs; in courses attended in person or by means of electronic transmission; or any other means of distance education (ACRL, 1998).

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