The Library of Congress and 16 other libraries have begun testing an online reference service that will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to users worldwide. This unique partnership, known as the Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS), will be the first of its kind to connect users with accurate, timely and credible information anytime anywhere through an international, digital network of libraries and related institutions.
"As currently envisioned, CDRS combines the power of local collections and staff strengths with the diversity and availability of libraries and librarians everywhere," said Winston Tabb, associate librarian for Library Services. "Through this service, there will always be a librarian available to provide to users located anywhere the interchange and experience of trained assistance in providing access to collections and resources both analog and digital. This unique collaboration, which we have been working on since the fall of 1999, is in keeping with the recent recommendations by the National Research Council study commissioned by the Library of Congress. Digital partnerships are a crucial part of knowledge navigation in the 21st century."
The first "live" question was posed on June 29. This reference inquiry -- regarding ancient Byzantine cuisine -- was sent by a participating public library consortium in London. The request, which was received by the CDRS server at the Library of Congress in Washington, was matched based on subject matter, depth of detail and time of day, and routed to the Santa Monica Public Library at 10:40 a.m. Several hours later, a list of five books was on its way to London. During its first month of "live" testing, the member institutions exchanged more than 300 questions, creating a virtual reference desk spanning three continents and 15 time zones.
Current members are: Library of Congress; Santa Monica (Calif.) Public Library; Morris County (N.J.) Public Library; Suburban Library System (Chicago area); Peninsula Library System (San Mateo County, Calif.); Metropolitan Cooperative Library System (Los Angeles area); AskERIC; the National Library of Canada; the National Library of Australia; the Smithsonian Museum of American Art; Cornell University; the University of Minnesota; the University of Texas at Austin; Vanderbilt University; the University of Washington; EARL: The UK Public Library Consortium; and the University of Southern California.
On a local, regional, national and global scale, the tradition of libraries to provide value- added service will be the CDRS hallmark. This reference service will apply the best of what libraries and librarians have to offer: organization, as well as an in-depth subject expertise, for the universe of unstructured and unverified information on the Internet. Using new technologies, the service will enable member institutions to provide the best answers in the best context, by taking advantage not only of the millions of Internet resources but also of the many more millions of resources that are not online and that are held by libraries.
"With CDRS, the Library of Congress and its partner libraries can begin to bridge the gulf that exists between providers and users of information," said Diane Kresh, director for Public Service Collections at the Library of Congress and director of CDRS.
The CDRS is currently testing the second of three pilots. Public beta testing began October 17, 2000. Details about these pilots and other aspects of the CDRS can be found at the project Web site at www.loc.gov/rr/digiref.