The Library and the Online Com puter Library Center (OCLC) of Dublin, Ohio, have agreed to develop a prototype for a new reference service based on the Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS) pilot, which the Library and 16 participating libraries began early last year.
Now in its third phase, the pilot project has expanded to include more than 60 libraries and other institutions internationally.
The goal of the Collaborative Digital Reference Service is to provide professional reference service to researchers anytime anywhere, through an international digital network of libraries and related institutions. The collaborative service will have these advantages:
- It will provide a reliable and authoritative knowledge navigation service to a broad spectrum of users any place in the world with an Internet connection.
- Skilled reference librarians will hunt for answers in a large, searchable archives of authoritative information provided by CDRS institutions, find authoritative information from Web sources or forward questions that can be best answered by the expert staffs and specialized collections of CDRS institutions from around the world.
- The project will increase visibility and support for libraries everywhere.
Available to users even when libraries are closed, the Collaborative Digital Reference Service will serve as a question "clearing house," providing information from electronic sources at hand or referring questions to an appropriate CDRS institution. A library stumped by a user's questions may turn to CDRS reference specialists for help.
The Library of Congress will guide overall development of the service and continue to design key elements of the collaborative digital reference effort begun under the leadership of Diane Nester Kresh, director for public service collections. Through this collaborative effort, the Library is setting the standards for providing electronic information and reference services.
According to the cooperative agreement that the Library and OCLC signed, OCLC will provide technical support and help develop the CDRS pilot by building and maintaining a database of profiles of participating CDRS institutions and a question-and-answer database that will enable CDRS participants to catalog answers and store them in a searchable file. OCLC will also provide administrative support for CDRS, including marketing, registration, training and user support.
"By linking libraries for reference services, the CDRS would combine the power of local collections and staff strengths with the diversity and availability of libraries and librarians everywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Together, the two organizations will promote CDRS in the library and research communities and will continue to identify ways in which technology, coupled with the subject strengths and navigation skills of librarians, can serve the needs of all information seekers.
The Library and OCLC co-sponsored a symposium on "Building the Virtual Reference Desk in a 24/7 World" at the Library on Jan. 12, which was attended by more than 600 librarians attending the American Library Association's midwinter conference in Washington. Symposium speakers described their experiences with virtual reference services in academic and public libraries in the United States.
Ms. Kresh provided an overview of the Collaborative Digital Reference Service during the symposium. "By linking libraries for reference services," she said, "the CDRS would combine the power of local collections and staff strengths with the diversity and availability of libraries and librarians everywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There would 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."
Chip Nilges, director of new product planning at OCLC, informed the audience that OCLC was exploring several possible roles in the cooperative reference services environment that could include supporting emerging networks, delivering a low-cost alternative for local use, and supporting cooperative efforts to deliver reference services through the Internet. In his concluding remarks, Frank Hermes, vice president for planning and marketing at OCLC, said that "cooperative reference services is central to the OCLC strategy, and it is also central to the future of libraries and librarianship."
Both the library and the popular press have been watching this story with a great deal of interest. In addition to an Associated Press article and a feature in Wired magazine that appeared last fall, the February issue of Library Journal featured Ms. Kresh on its cover and carried an extensive story on this project and related e-reference programs.