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Global Reference Network

CDRS Pilot In The News

"Libraries Meet the World Wide Web: The Collaborative Digital Reference Service," by Diane Nester Kresh, ARL Bimonthly Report 219, December 2001.

"From Sshh to Search Engine: on the World Wide Web," by Diane Nester Kresh, Information Technologies and Libraries, Vol. 20, No. 3, September 2001, p. 139.

Collaborative Digital Reference Service, Internet Scout Report, September 14, 2001.

A Need to Know: Library of Congress creates global network to track down answers to tough questions, by Greg Langlois. Federal Computer Week, July 2, 2001

Faster Facts: The Library of Congress Tests its Virtual Reference Network. Government Computer News, May 28, 2001.

Libraries Offer Online Reference Services to One Another. The Chronicle of Higher Education (Information Technology), May 22, 2001.

The Shape of E-Reference (Future of the Library Series). Library Journal, February 1, 2001.

Library, OCLC Cosponsor ALA Symposium on Digital Reference, by Angela Kinney. The Gazette (Library of Congress), January 12, 2001.

Ask a Librarian, Not Jeeves, by Kendra Mayfield. Wired News, November 24, 2000.

The Distributed Librarian: Live, Online, Real-Time Reference (The Internet Librarian), by Karen G. Schneider. American Libraries, November 2000.

Library of Congress Leads Cooperative Effort to Develop a Global Online Reference Service: Libraries in U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia to Offer Collaborative Digital Reference Service. Library of Congress News Release, August 7, 2000.

Offering High Quality Reference Service on the Web: The Collaborative Digital Reference Service (CDRS). D-Lib Magazine, June 2000 (Volume 6, Number 6).

Project History

Library of Congress held a two-day institute June 29-30th, 1998 that helped to get the CDRS pilot project off and running. Hosted by Diane Kresh, Director for Public Service Collections at LC, in cooperation with Anne Lipow of the Library Solutions Institute of Berkeley, California, this conference, "Reference Service in a Digital Age," grew out of discussions among reference librarians the previous January at ALA midwinter about how the growth of the Internet was affecting their work. Participants in the institute discussed the challenge of "remote" users, the difficulty of training staff to adapt to a rapidly changing digital environment, and the potential for developing collaborative and innovative responses to these challenges using available technologies as a starting point.

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Building the Pilot: Software

After a series of follow-up meeting and discussions at various professional meetings, the Library of Congress began to build CDRS in the Spring of 2000. Remedy, a help-desk software, was "broken and rebuilt" by the Library's in-house programmers to function to the specifications agreed upon by members of the group. The new software had three main components, a database of library profiles describing a library's services and its collection strengths, an automated "Request Manager" which would route a question automatically to the member of the network "best-suited" to answer it, and finally, a Knowledge Base, a database of Questions and Answers which could be used as a resource for members of the network.

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Building the Pilot: Early Participants

From the beginning, libraries of all types -- national, academic, special, and public -- joined the effort, and each brought its special experience, knowledge of user behavior and needs, and subject expertise to bear. The rapid development of CDRS was a direct result of the resourcefulness and dedication of these early members: The National Agricultural Library, the National Library of Australia, the National Library of Canada, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the University of Texas at Austin, Cornell University, Santa Monica Public Library, Morris County (NJ) Public Library, the Peninsula Library System of the bay area in northern California, University of Washington, Vanderbilt University, Arizona State University, University of Southern California, Metropolitan Cooperative Library System (Los Angeles area), Ask ERIC, and The EARL Consortium (UK).

These early members decided that not only would the Collaborative Digital Reference Service capitalize on the strength of the Internet to convey information but it would also provide unprecedented access to global resources, create an archive of questions and answers as a resource for its members, and generally, add value to information on the Internet, enable 24/7 service, and redefine the role of librarian in the Internet Age.

CDRS Goes Live

The first live question was posed on June 29, 2000. This reference inquiry -- regarding ancient Byzantine cuisine -- was sent by EARL Ask-A-Librarian, a participating public library consortium in the UK. The request, received by the CDRS server at the Library of Congress in Washington, was matched based on subject matter, 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 and answers, creating a virtual reference desk spanning three continents and 15 time zones.

The Pilot Grows

Pilot Three of the project began in November of 2000 and continued through the May of 2002. It focused on scaling up the workflow, creating and implementing an online profiling tool, an "on call librarian," and developing and implementing the prototype of a Knowledge Base (KB). This last goal was achieved with the help of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) of Dublin, Ohio, with whom the Library of Congress signed a collaborative agreement in January 2001.

A year after this agreement was signed, CDRS had 250 members from all over the United States and beyond exchanging questions and answers across time zones and continents -- several more National Libraries had joined the effort, including the British Library, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek of the Netherlands, the National Library of Norway, several libraries in Asia, and public libraries in various parts of Europe. "Proof of concept" had been achieved.

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Next Phase of Collaboration

In January 2002, as the scale of the project was beginning to exceed the ability of the pilot software to function smoothly, the Library of Congress signed a second collaborative agreement with OCLC to develop what is now known as QuestionPoint, a fully-integrated reference management system. As of June 3, 2002, the CDRS pilot was completed and QuestionPoint was launched.

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Library of Congress
Comments: GRN/QP Help Desk ( April 25, 2006 )