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Needs, Goals & Development

Aspects of the Need for InfoEyes

The need for and demand by blind and visually impaired patrons for this type of service is persistent and growing.

Providing an online reference and instructional program fosters patron empowerment and self-sufficiency. Blind and visually impaired patrons are at some risk of developing passive attitudes toward information.

The participating libraries want and need to develop new service programs for their patrons, especially digital and online services. Many of the reference service providers who contribute time and talent to InfoEyes were born digital in the sense that they had little or no previous reference desk experience.

All virtual reference services need to become more accessible for all users and potential users. Creating and testing a virtual reference service designed specifically for blind and visually impaired individuals is one concrete way to address this broader need.


The goals of the beta phase of the InfoEyes project were developed by the Core Project Team in consultation with the InfoEyes Advisory Council, consisting of representatives from each participating library.

Specific Questions Addressed

Genesis of InfoEyes

During the summer of 2003 the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center and the Southern Illinois Talking Book Center participated in a trial of the QuestionPoint system from OCLC. The trial was coordinated by the Illinois State Library. In November 2003 the Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service invited other libraries in the national network of libraries service the blind and visually impaired to join InfoEyes and make it a multi-state collaborative. In December an online informational meeting was held. The beta phase of the multi-state pilot project had a soft launch in March 2004. The beta phase lasted for six months, concluding at the end of August 2004. September 2004 was a transitional month from the beta testing phase to the full implementation of the program. It was during September that we learned that our grant application to IMLS for funding to continue for another two years was not funded. As a result, the operating budget for InfoEyes was streamlined. On October 11, 2004 InfoEyes launched as an ongoing collaborative multi-state program.

How InfoEyes Works

During most of the beta testing phase patrons had three options for submitting a question to InfoEyes. First, they could submit a question asynchronously via email using the OCLC QuestionPoint system. The InfoEyes service team attempted to respond via email in 48 hours or less. Second, a patron could engage in a synchronous, basic text chat session using the OCLC QuestionPoint system. Third, a patron could opt to engage in an enhanced virtual reference session involving voice-over-IP, co-browsing, and other enhanced virtual reference features. At the beginning of the beta test phase, we were using QuestionPoint Enhanced Communications as the software platform for this enhanced reference interaction. After a six-week period in May and early June when no enhanced reference option was offered, the InfoEyes team switched to the iVocalize software platform from Talking Communities.

Throughout the beta testing phase InfoEyes operated as a loose, multi-state federation of libraries. Each participating library was asked to contribute resources to the project. Initially, each library was asked to contribute four hours per week of desk time providing service directly to patrons. As the beta test progressed and more libraries joined, the amount of required desk time decreased to three hours per week. During these desk shifts the InfoEyes service providers monitored all three communication modes, answering any new or unclaimed email reference questions, engaging in basic text chat with patrons, and engaging in enhanced reference interactions as needed. Staff members from participating libraries also were asked to attend online training sessions (offered both by OCLC staff and by members of the InfoEyes project team), as well as the online monthly meetings of the InfoEyes Advisory Council. Participating libraries also were asked to publicize the service through their websites, newsletters, local media, and other communication channels. Last but not least, participating libraries were asked to provide both OCLC and the beta test project evaluator with feedback on experiences, preferences, and suggestions.

The contributions of OCLC to the beta phase of InfoEyes were substantial and deeply appreciated by the participating libraries and patrons. These contributions include:

In terms of management and governance, the Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service provided overall management and served as fiscal agent for the project. Each participating library had one vote on the InfoEyes Advisory Council, which served as the governing body. Whenever a vote was taken, a roll call of the participating libraries was conducted. A simple majority was sufficient to pass any decision presented for a vote by the InfoEyes Advisory Council.

The day-to-day operation and management of InfoEyes was a collaborative effort. A few of the operational tasks and the lead person are enumerated below:


Summer 2003:
Through a trial offer coordinated by the Illinois State Library, the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center and the Southern Illinois Talking Book Center perform some preliminary tests the QuestionPoint virtual reference system from OCLC to determine accessibility and general usability.
Jan.-March 2004:
The multi-state project is organized. Training in the software and e-resources to be used is provided to InfoEyes participating libraries.
Early March 2004:
InfoEyes has a soft launch. Initially only email and basic text chat service is offered.
March 22, 2004:
Enhanced reference service is offered using QuestionPoint Enhanced Communications.
April 2004:
The InfoEyes Advisory Council decides to discontinue using QuestionPoint Enhanced Communications for its enhanced VR service.
April 29, 2004:
Public access through InfoEyes to the QuestionPoint Enhanced Communication mode was discontinued.
June 7, 2004:
Following five weeks where no enhance virtual reference option was offered to InfoEyes users, we begin using an iVocalize room from Talking Communities for the enhanced service component of InfoEyes.
August 31, 2004:
The six-month beta testing period officially ends, but the service continues indefinitely.
October 11, 2004:
The ongoing InfoEyes service program officially launches.