|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
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. Coffman often writes on this
topic, and his conference presentations are always packed. He's written
his latest views and speculations.
Following Coffman's article
about how it all works is a case study
from a library that's been experimenting with these software packages.
Thinking of going that route yourself? You can read this first, live vicariously
through the Bowling Green State University librarians, and learn from their
experiences before you take the plunge.
Our third feature offers
a slightly different point of view—it's written by a woman who's title
is actually "off-campus services librarian." At a university that needs
to serve many distance education classes, she is the one responsible for
providing library resources and training to hundreds of adults who seldom
see the main campus or its library. She relies on videoconferencing and
cyberclasses, and also on more traditional methods of communication like
fax, mail, and the good ol' telephone. Imagine that!
And you can't have a discussion
about serving distant patrons without talking about ILL, can you? We've
got that one covered too, in an article about how a consortium built a
catalog that made ILL a whole lot easier and cheaper. Sound good? Read
all about the Alleycat on page 40.
We are here to make your
job easier. I think these articles will show you what's possible now and
what's on the horizon.