Distance Learning Library Services: Keeping Up with the Times

Article excerpt


Libraries are vital components of academic institutions. DavisUnderwood and Lee (as cited in Cain & Lockee, 2002) indicate use of library services contributes to academic success and student retention. For students learning at a distance, library services become even more vital since local access to resources may be unavailable. The rise in the number of institutions participating in distance education reflects an increasing demand for distance library services. The American Library's Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) recently released its revised Standards for Distance Learning Library Services. The standards are built on the principle of Access Entitlement whereby "Direct human access must be made available to the distance learning community through instruction, interaction, and intervention from library personnel" (ACRL, Bill of Rights section, para. 2). Library services must be available to distance learners regardless of their location.

Libraries provide access to resources as well as instruction on locating, accessing, evaluating, and using resources successfully. Striving to meet the information and research needs of its distance learners, libraries "ensure that the distance learning community has access to library materials equivalent to those provided in traditional settings" (ACRL, Resources section, para. 1). These resources should be sufficient to fulfill assignments, to support curricular needs, to meet teaching and research needs, and to facilitate the acquisition of lifelong learning skills. In support of distance learners, libraries provide rapid, reliable, and secure access to electronic resources such as full-text catalogs and databases of scholarly journals, books, dissertations, newspapers, and eBooks. Document delivery and inter-library loan services are available where full-text access is not, allowing distance learners to receive their information in a timely manner. Additionally, distance librarians help learners identify local libraries from which they may receive service.

Resource availability is only part of what libraries are about. A major component of library service is ensuring users can effectively access and use these resources. Distance libraries provide the human side of resources referred to by Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2004). The remainder of this article describes how distance libraries personalize and provide service through the use of various information communication technologies.



Distance library staff has several options for communicating personally with distance learners. Instant messenger (TM), chat, or online conferencing software are commonplace. The Kreitzberg Library at Norwich University, for example, uses Meebo to chat with students from several instant messaging services such as Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, and Google Talk. Ask a Librarian is a service designed to provide realtime assistance to users at a distance. Ask a Librarian services vary, however, depending on the institution or organization providing the service. Some offer a toll-free number for phone assistance, and most offer Uve text chat and 24-hour e-mail response. In Rorida for example, Ask a Librarian is a statewide service and users may connect with librarians outside their institution as librarians from around the state staff the service. Clicking on the "Ask" icon on library Web sites will usually take the user to a page where they can begin chatting via text or to instructions on how to contact the library staff. In addition to chat services, distance libraries provide webinars and individual instruction to students via telephone and online conferencing software such as WebEx and Elluminate.


Distance libraries also use a variety of information communication technologies in providing services to remote independent learners. Audio and video streaming is used to provide library orientation, information and instruction. …