Reference and Instruction Services Go Virtual as a Form of Outreach: Case Studies from Academic Libraries: The New Virtual Environment

Article excerpt

ACADEMIC, SPECIAL, AND PUBLIC LIBRARIES CATER TO A CUSTOMER BASE THAT IS NO LONGER DEFINED BY LOCATION. USERS OF INFORMATION ARE GLOBAL CLIENTS WHO ARE CONTINUOUSLY CONNECTED TO RESOURCES AND ARE NOT RESTRICTED TO ACCESS IN ANY PHYSICAL FACILITY. CONVERSELY, UNDERSERVED LIBRARY USERS, THOSE WHO LIVE IN IMPOVERISHED COMMUNITIES, RARELY VENTURE INTO LIBRARIES TO MAKE USE OF INFORMATION RESOURCES; NOR DO MANY HAVE PERSONAL COMPUTERS TO ACCESS RESOURCES REMOTELY, SINCE MANY CONFRONT ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, OR EDUCATIONAL CONSTRAINTS.

But underserved users may also include college and university students and faculty who do not recognize the value of visiting their campus library, either electronically via the campuswide intranet or in person, and who may choose instead to consult favorite resources on the Internet or personal collections in colleagues' offices or friends' dorm rooms. These students and faculty are missing out on many new resources packaged in a variety of user-friendly media. If they are made aware of the many products and services available to them, they can begin an "information journey" to explore online resources of value to their work and professional and personal interests. Present-day academic libraries, in particular, offer top-notch electronically designed outreach programs. They demonstrate how libraries have become high-tech data mining services, information training and navigation centers, and experts in developing high-speed resource sharing and document delivery systems, connecting users to pertinent information via customized, Web-based research portals.

Two outreach activities, hosted on library websites and well-received by faculty and students alike, are the "online reference desk" or "virtual/digital reference," and "online/ virtual instruction." This article discusses these popular information services as representative outreach programs and describes how they operate at academic institutions. The Institute of Paper Science and Technology's (IPST) Haselton Library and Knowledge Center, in Atlanta, Georgia, is the main case study presented. The IPST is a graduate school and research institute that supports scientific research and business studies for the paper industry. The Haselton Library is an intriguing case study, as it functions both as an academic and special library, serving the Institute's 25 faculty, 67 students, and approximately 50 research staff, as well as a global corporate clientele involved in the pulp, paper, and related industries. One full-time library manager serves as the information consultant and instructor of library services, with a support staff of a digital resources coordinator (who designs and manages the library's intranet resources) and four paraprofessionals (who handle cataloging, document delivery, interlibrary loan, and serials management). To develop and benchmark its information training program, the Haselton Library selected applicable performance standards approved by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and published in Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (January 2000). The results of the benchmarking are included in this article.

Outreach--An Introduction

"Outreach" has been defined as "bringing services out to where they are needed" (Trotta 1993, p. 1). The origin of outreach programs can be traced to public libraries, where library branches and bookmobiles served the information needs of the communities (Trotta 1993). Academic outreach, on the other hand, is a relatively new phenomenon and may have a variety of functions (Cruickshank 2001). For example, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, outreach has been characterized as the design of services to reach patrons outside the library, whether undergraduates in their dorms or faculty in their departmental offices (Cruickshank 2001). Faculty outreach in an academic setting is necessary for several reasons: (1) faculty may introduce new bibliographic and information-seeking concepts; (2) faculty are a particular and primary group of information seekers for academic libraries; (3) faculty are information gateways to student library users, which is the largest user group for academic libraries; and (4) working directly with faculty is a crucial aspect of the changing role of information professionals (Lipow 1992). …