Libraries Society of North America 31st Annual Conference
Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland - March 20-26, 2003
Stahl, University of Maryland
Jeff Penka, Manager, Cooperative Reference Services, OCLC
Linda Arret, Library
Zieper, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Stahl’s introduction noted
the increasing popularity of digital reference services, which provide new
opportunities for librarians to provide reference services to users unable or
unwilling to ask their questions in person or by telephone. Digital reference
services, however, present
issues—some new, some made more apparent—in areas including training,
management, and law. This session is intended to provide an update on some of
these issues and concerns for librarians currently offering or considering
digital reference services.
Penka’s interactive and
informal presentation asked the audience to consider what the terms
“remote,” “electronic,” and “virtual” reference service meant and
urged that technological concerns not obscure the core values of reference
service. He spoke of “values-based service,” listing some of the traditional
values of library services including: intellectual freedom, equality of access,
encouraging literacy and learning, and the protection of privacy. Technology
makes it possible to track patrons and note how they are discovering and
connecting to our services, and perform statistical analyses using inexpensive
software. It is advisable to use surveys, but surveys typically measure only
user satisfaction and should be used in conjunction with other assessment tools.
Technology also makes it possible to ease the workload by providing
question management, statistical reports, and knowledge bases, as well as track
librarian performance and monitor adherence to quality standards.
He offered details of the Library of Congress’ planning,
implementation, and revisions of its Ask A Librarian Service, including the
two-year process of setting up “reading rooms,” and anticipating issues of
workflow and traffic; a three-month trial and changes based on that experience,
and showed a chart detailing the steep increase in use of certain reading rooms
and scheduling that accommodated that increase without additional staff.
Penka’s main focus
was on cooperative digital reference service, using the example of OCLC’s
QuestionPoint, which uses a model of “profiles,” which are explained as the
starting or destination point of a question on a network overlapping local,
regional, national, and international, academic, public, specialized and
commercial services. He noted that in most cases users were happy to be able to
submit questions 24/7, but were willing to await answers.
He indicated that some technical problems were problems with the
patron’s knowledge of his own computer and noted that QuestionPoint permits
the librarian to view the questioner’s screen.
He briefly outlined QuestionPoint’s short term plans, including expansion beyond North America and the English-speaking world, an increase in consortial cooperation, and the creation of a knowledge base. He concluded with exhortations: Demystify and Demythify (that is, feel free to try out services and challenge assumptions); share ideas and listen to others; participate in professional communities, including conferences and listservs; and build interoperable technology. Penka’s final slide included three URLs:
QuestionPoint: http://www.questionpoint.org; a special issue of D-Lib Magazine: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/february03/02contents.html; and Bernie Sloan’s Digital Reference Page http://www.alexia.lis.uiuc.edu/~bsloan/bernie.htm
Arret prefaced her presentation
on the DRLaw project with the disclaimer that she was not a lawyer and an
acknowledgement of the “remote assistance” of her colleague Mary Minow of
librarylaw.com. The DRLaw
project’s aim is to develop legal guidelines for implementing and managing
digital reference services. The
impetus for this project includes the new information systems that can be
monitored, the creation and retention of databases that include patron
information, concerns about the use of licensed resources with and for patrons
who may not be covered by those licenses, the creation of agreements that have
legal force, including licenses and collective bargaining agreements. The
creation of information of interest to governing authorities and the ability to
store and retrieve that information makes the establishment of legal guidelines
more urgent. Issues of privacy and
confidentiality—particularly in the context of the Patriot Act—are of
particular concern and overlap with issues of intellectual property and
copyright. Who, for example, owns the product of a reference question: the
questioner? The library, the cooperative reference group?
The use of licensed databases with users who may not be included in the
licenses is another area of concern. The Cleveland Public Library routinely
scans and transmits copyrighted material in answer to digital reference
questions; other libraries worry about escorting remote questioners into
licensed databases whose licenses may preclude their unescorted reentry.
Other questions include the rights of the vendors—do they know that
some libraries use their products in ways that may fall outside the
licensing—and the rights of patrons. Do
they know that we can store the transcripts of the reference sessions and make
the answers available to other librarians and patrons.
The privacy of the librarian is also an issue: do we use real names with
remote patrons and do supervisors use transcripts to evaluate librarian
Arret continued with
slides from a sample session using 24/7 (she
also works with that product’s owner, LSSI) which illustrated issues involving
the display of information about the librarian and the patron, the file sharing,
and the sending of a transcript to the patron.
She concluded with a review of the issues DRLaw intends to address,
including ways to protect works (copyright, licenses, rights associated with the
development of knowledge bases), an explanation of the Patriot Act and advice on
compliance: do not create or maintain records of patron interactions that you
would not wish to hand over to law enforcement.
She offered the model of the European Union privacy principles, which
include notifying patrons of the purposes of collecting data, offering them the
opportunity not to contribute personal data and access and correct any data that
is collected. Like Penka, Arret exhorted the audience: “Be not afraid,
but vigilant’: update privacy policies, review licensing agreements, work with
governing authorities and inform patrons of your policies and their rights. She
indicated that real benefits will follow from using such guidelines and best
practices, including improving relationships with vendors, protecting libraries
from legal liabilities, enhancing users’ trust and bolstering the roles of
libraries and librarians. She also
offered a selection of URLs for further information: the Mary Minow website: http://www.librarylaw.com
and Minow’s presentation at Infopeople: http://www.infopeople.org/training/webcasts/series2/11-21-02_supp/html
; Arret’s own presentation at the
2002 Virtual Reference Desk conference: http://www.vrd.org/conferences/vrd2002/proceedings/arret.shtml;
and the registry of real-time digital reference services http://www.public.iastate.edu/~CYBERSTACKS/LiveRef.htm
as well as Bernie Sloan’s dr page, mentioned above.
Questions included the issue of using licensed databases with patrons not covered by the licenses. Solutions include vendors’ beginning to consider issues associated with digital reference, the possibility of low-cost access to databases in the context, and the reality that many librarians do use licensed materials for—and with—unaffiliated users “so that everyone has access to the same information,” as they would within a library building. Another question concerned fair use in a digital reference context. Does the process “mirror” interlibrary loan and the right to create a single copy for a single user? Does the Cleveland Public Library maintain files of the articles it scans and transmits? That would seem to be a violation of fair use. Arret noted that ILL runs under guidelines, not law and that signed licenses are contracts and “trump” the law. A third question asked about cooperative projects with subject specialties. Penka noted that engineering libraries had developed such a project and that Joan Stahl was building a consortium for answering questions in art. Arret pointed out that there was another model of sharing subject expertise: one library in a consortium may take responsibility for questions in a subject area and offered the example of the New York Public Library’s Spanish-language service. A final question concerned issues of tracking and transcripts. Wouldn’t database vendors want access to these records to help them provide better service? The questioner suggested that there would be a temptation to use such records as marketers do and might results in limiting access and choice, diminishing the depth and variety of products. Arret agreed and noted the limitations and dangers of excessive customization and personalization.