Virtual reference is the delivery of library reference services through electronic information technology. It means that individuals are able to access library resources and assistance through any computer with internet access -- at home, work, or the library. Such access overcomes traditional barriers of geography and demography and makes an information search faster and easier.
We believe that a virtual reference service will reinforce the usefulness of Saskatchewan libraries to the individual, community, and province; further, it will serve the social purpose of empowering people to embrace the world and meet their own information needs.
The development of a virtual reference service in Saskatchewan is a direct outcome of the Review of Regional Libraries Committee Report. The Review of Regional Libraries Committee recognized that the power of electronic information technology has created tremendous opportunity for developing new library services in the province. The committee recommended that library systems in the province participate in "the development of electronic information access as a method of delivering reference and information services."
To this end, the Saskatchewan Provincial Library created the Saskatchewan Virtual Reference Working Group, comprised of representatives of the public library systems in Saskatchewan and staff of the Library Cooperation and Networking Unit at the Provincial Library.
At it's first meeting, the working group brainstormed: "What is Virtual Reference." Following is the outcome of that brainstorm session:
Virtual reference is a library service that allows all residents of Saskatchewan -- both rural and urban -- to have:
- Direct electronic access to all library information resources.
- A greater choice of means of access to the resources -- via e-mail, on-site visit, or telephone (local or 1-800).
- Fast and easy electronic information systems with the option to ask for staff assistance at any time.
Components of a virtual reference service would include:
- Online public access catalogues that list informational materials in all formats.
- Digitized library resources that can be readily viewed by users in the library, at home, or at work.
- Direct access to electronic books, journals, full-text databases, and other sources of information.
The job of the libraries and library staff in creating a virtual reference service is to:
- Cooperate and share in the development, operation, and maintenance of the various parts of the system.
- Develop and maintain a web site that includes links to:
- libraries in Saskatchewan and other resources libraries
- Saskatchewan information sites
- Major reference and information service sites
- Selected sites of quality and topical information
- Create and provide digitized information that allows easy access to residents with varying skills and knowledge levels.
- Select and provide electronic access to general and subject specific databases, particularly those relating to Saskatchewan.
- Make the system appear simple and seamless to users.
- Do the behind-the-scenes jobs but be available to the public when our assistance is required.
- Use each individual's ability and skill in the most effective way.
- Act as mentors and provide backup resources as required by staff or libraries.
A virtual reference service is valuable because it will:
- Tie together all the resources and services of libraries in Saskatchewan.
- Provide direct access electronic information resources outside the province.
- Reinforce the usefulness of the library to the individual, the community and the province.
- Serve the social purpose of empowering people and enabling them to embrace the world and meet their own needs.