Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Reaching Faraway Patrons

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Reaching Faraway Patrons

Article excerpt

I'm not quite sure how we got to the point that everyone expects to be able to access the whole world's electronic information 24/7, from home, in their pajamas. But yet, here we are. And what are we, as an industry, doing about it?

That's what this issue of CIL is all about. How are we serving off-site library users? What's new in this field that we've dubbed "distance librarianship"? We've come a long way since it was considered "a big convenience" that you could call the library on the phone to renew your book. Patrons of all stripes--people at home, school or college students, corporate employees--now want information access that's convenient to their lifestyles and their working needs. And I believe that if librarians try to ignore this fact, users will want to replace them with the infamous Internet. Luckily, though, a lot of people are working toward the goal of being able to offer really solid long-distance service.

We are honored to have our main feature article come from Steve Coffman, who many regard as the current guru of online reference services. He has been developing "call center" software that allows reference librarians to act like catalog sales reps: They can talk to you on the phone or chat with you on the Net, often while you're both looking at Web pages. This type of software allows the same sort of interaction that used to happen face-to-face at the reference desk. Now, though, you can have real-time conversations even when you're far apart. …

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