Online Programming Can Be a Library Oasis on the Internet: With the Help of Conferencing Software like iVocalize, the Internet Will No Longer Be a Desert but a Rich Bazaar of Programs and Communities Brought Together by Libraries of All Types

By Bell, Lori; Peters, Thomas A. | Computers in Libraries, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

Online Programming Can Be a Library Oasis on the Internet: With the Help of Conferencing Software like iVocalize, the Internet Will No Longer Be a Desert but a Rich Bazaar of Programs and Communities Brought Together by Libraries of All Types


Bell, Lori, Peters, Thomas A., Computers in Libraries


The Internet is many things to many people. Some see the Internet as the Wild West, a yawning wilderness waiting to be tamed and cultivated. For companies like eBay, the Internet is a steady, transaction-based revenue stream. For the dot-com companies of the 1990s that blossomed like desert flowers after a downpour, the Internet was perceived as a California gold rush. If you staked a claim and hit a mother lode of venture capital, you could become rich--or, at least, you could spend money as if you were rich.

In terms of online library programming for patrons, the Internet currently is a desert. But the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center, the Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service, TAP Information Services, and the Alliance Library System (a consortium of approximately 300 libraries of all types) have been collaborating with other libraries to divine water in these deserts of vast eternity. Online Programming for All Libraries, aka OPAL (http://www.opal-online.org), is an outpost of progress, a library oasis amid the shifting sands of the Internet.

Our Software Discovery and How We Make It Work

We discovered a wonderful, versatile technology from Talking Communities (http://www.talkingcommunities.com) called iVocalize, which at a very low cost provides Internet conferencing and programming software. When we ventured into this desert we were looking for accessible text chat software to host book discussion programs for our visually impaired patrons. What we found in iVocalize was far greater than what we sought. Now we use the software for everything--programs, meetings, conference calls, and other long-distance communications. The software is easy to use, yet it contains sophisticated features for those who want to take advantage of them. The software is also accessible to the visually impaired. A library can host its own software or "rent" an online room at an average cost of $40 per month for a room for 10 users. Each online room is available to schedule and use whenever needed.

The software features high-quality Voice over IP, text chat, co-browsing, and the ability to provide PowerPoint and other types of presentations. During reference interactions and online instructional sessions we are able to cobrowse into proprietary databases. We have used the software successfully for small and large meetings, training programs on how to use library resources, an enhanced virtual reference service, book discussion groups, interview-style programming, and more. It also is easy to record the audio and text chat in the meeting as well as the Web pages visited or the presentation shown. The audio recordings are made in Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, which can be played back using freely available media software or transferred to one of approximately 500 types of portable devices capable of playing WMA files.

When using the software for the first time, the user goes to a URL that serves as an entry point into a conference room. After the user's name is typed in a box, a small software applet downloads and he or she is able to enter the room. We have experienced few technical problems with the software. Although it will not work on a Mac platform, the company is currently working on this issue. With a PC microphone--available for as little as $9 from discount stores--the user can then interact with other users in the meeting room via high-quality and virtually trouble-free audio or Voice over IP. Before we adopted the iVocalize software, we had tried other programs incorporating Voice over IP that were less than satisfactory: They were undependable, experienced frequent audio delays, and so on.

What Is OPAL and Why Is It an Oasis?

A real oasis is a lush, fertile, green abode in a desert or wasteland. Because there is little live programming taking place in libraries on the Internet, OPAL is a truly virtual oasis, a place where patrons can participate in book discussions, children can attend virtual story times, persons of all ages can learn how to search the online catalog in interactive training and demonstration sessions, and more. …

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