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Meeting Minutes: July 20, 2006

InfoEyes Advisory Committee Meeting


Debbie Aggertt, Catherine Durivage, Meghan McDaniel, Karen Odean, Jeff Penka, Linda Rossman, Robin Rousu, Sharon Ruda, Joe Thompson


Online iVocalize Room


2:00 pm Eastern / 1:00 pm Central

1. Update on Accessibility Issues in QuestionPoint

Jeff Penka, Product Manager, OCLC QuestionPoint:

Over the past few months Jeff has been meeting with other members of the InfoEyes service in various forums, including at the recent ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. Here at the meeting he offered the following update regarding plans for accessibility at QuestionPoint. This means how they are planning on making the chat both more accessible and usable.

In August of 2004 the merger of the 24/7 Reference and OCLC QuestionPoint services took place. Integrating these two communities and creating the next generation of software have been the major concerns since then. Two primary priorities have driven the software development: Looking at how the technology tool set is accessible and globalization. This has continued to be the case and has driven a lot of decisions since. As of the 24/7 Reference merger in 2004, QuestionPoint still had a partnership with Convey. That Convey partnership was initiated in the thought that it might provide some VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) service options, especially to the sight and physically handicapped. That relationship with Convey was dropped when it proved not to work. A variety of options were considered.

There wasn't a tool that would fit the service's needs "out of the box," so midway through 2005 the initiative to develop what has become called the Flash Chat tool was begun. There were other web technologies available, but QuestionPoint staff felt that by choosing them they would be limiting the development options. Jeff noted that calling the new chat “Flash Chat” is a bit of a misnomer, since only the librarian needs to use the Flash technology. The user side is based only on html. In choosing Flash technology, a more stable platform was available over an html page on the librarian side that might constantly be refreshing. The constant refresh is a problem that the QuestionPoint programmers wanted to eliminate. The librarian's side has become more solidified. Jeff explained that QuestionPoint staff are also turning their attention to the patron's side regarding usability. Some changes coming in the August 2006 software update install will regard blink technology and frame technology. QuestionPoint is at a point where the merger activities between QP and 24/7 Reference have pretty much stabilized.

The next steps will include the development of a standardized testing suite so that the coding for screen readers for usability can be best addressed. QuestionPoint programmers will need to determine which screen readers should be used for testing. They are conscious that each screen reader might behave differently than others.

Jeff noted that this has been a quick overview, but the main point here is that there is a solid foundation to build upon. Linda thanked Jeff for the update and agreed that this was useful information, but noted that there are and will continue to be lots of questions on the accessibility/usability topic.

Robin asked if the interface is going to be accessible for blind reference providers, as well as the users of the service. Jeff replied that when testing of screen readers begins, the Flash piece on the librarian's side will be the first to check. They will be looking at how to make the interface usable. Jeff noted that the QuestionPoint webforms and other aspects of the interface are already accessible. Jeff would like the help of the InfoEyes team to determine what priorities to establish - making the chat usable first for providers or users for instance?

Joe noted that making sure that 24 hour staffing by the QuestionPoint cooperative is available to the customers (blind and sighted) of subscribing libraries is an important aspect. Robin and Linda agreed that they would each vote for prioritizing the accessibility of the patron side first as well.

Jeff asked if volunteers from the InfoEyes group would be willing to help in the screen reader testing process, including the selection of which screen readers to test. Catherine noted that we have some repeat InfoEyes patrons who might be interested in helping with this initiative (Barry Levine's name was suggested). Linda's staff, including the library director, use JAWS and would definitely be willing to help in this important effort even though they do have very busy schedules. Jeff said that WindowEyes and JAWS sound like the systems that QP will want to check, but we will also want to make sure that we are testing the most appropriate versions of each. Catherine suggested to Jeff that she and Linda could be contacted in the future to represent the InfoEyes group and arrange for the volunteer testing.

Jeff also briefly described an upcoming internal accessibility audit of the QuestionPoint service, much like what OCLC has done on others of their services. Jeff shared a web page titled, "OCLC Section 508 Accessibility Template" for OCLC's FirstSearch service. This continues to be updated. There is a form of this type being developed now for QuestionPoint. This will hopefully be helpful in addressing specific areas of accessibility. This is being used to help formulate a set of guidelines. A page of this type would be on the public OCLC web site, so any subscribing library could choose to link to it.

Linda thanked Jeff again for his time, and noted that this information is valuable. Linda and Catherine will be in touch with Jeff regarding possible screen reader testers.

2. Statistical Reporting - Catherine Durivage

Catherine stated that InfoEyes usage statistics through June are now posted on the web site. There were 20 questions in June and there have been 13 so far in July. Many of these requests include multiple individual questions, sometimes of a very challenging nature. Catherine noted that we are on track as compared to last year. We don't know what will happen when the Talking Book Topics article comes out, but we should expect to possibly see an increase.

Sharon also noted that many of the questions we are getting are of a very complex nature. Usage is highest after the weekend on Monday and Tuesday.

3. OCLC Costs for Next Contract Year (starting October 2006)

Linda provided the total cost of our InfoEyes contract for the coming year, starting this October. The OCLC charge for FY 06 is $2,612.50. FY 07 and FY 08 are each expected to be at $4,037.50. The FY 07 and FY 08 contracts are expected to be higher, because OCLC is projecting ahead that the service will not be offered as e-mail only, which is what we are paying for currently. The FY 07 and 08 amounts would be for the cost of the full service. Catherine feels that if we stick with OCLC in future years, but don't use other services besides e-mail, this price may not be as high as currently quoted.

Catherine noted also that the cost of keeping the domain name is an additional $200.00. The domain name registration is through a company called Infobahn Outfitters, Inc. and would expire the end of October if not renewed.

Pricing for QuestionPoint would come due by Oct. 1 based on 8 states involved. Last year our costs were a bit cheaper than they will be this year because we had an anonymous donation of one membership. It looks like if we divide $2,812.50 by 8, it would result in a fee of $351.56 for each state. Last year Diana Sussman's library system in Illinois coordinated on sending out the bill to the partner libraries. Catherine will check with Diana to see if we should handle the billing differently this year. We will also need to find a way to confirm if each of the 8 states currently participating will continue. Joe also offered to share this information with the coordinators of other VR services to see if there could be interest from others in participating.

4. Talking Book Topics Article

Discuss whether we need a backup plan for possible overflow questions in case we get more than one or two questions per day.

If our usage increases dramatically, how will be keep up with it? Joe and Catherine suggested using the InfoEyes listserv to ask for help from other library partners if help is needed that day. Linda noted that it is nice to see the questions appear initially on the listserv, but we should indeed feel comfortable putting out calls on the listserv for help.

Joe asked for clarification to make sure it is considered 'okay' to answer questions on days even when your library is not scheduled. Linda agreed that this was welcome.

Debbie noted that Illinois, and Joe that Maryland, would both be willing to play the role of QuestionPoint referral partners if needed. We would just need some assistance from QuestionPoint staff to set these up.

5. Virtual Reference Training Issues

Quality Control and Training on good virtual reference practices

Robin had suggested at the last meeting that we should consider quality control and how to implement good virtual reference practices as concerns to address. Linda mentioned the usefulness of the book Virtual Reference Training by Buff Hirko and Mary Bucher Ross. Joe agreed that this book is invaluable.

It was suggested that Buff might be called upon to help with some online training. Joe offered as well. Debbie mentioned that Illinois is considering holding an online VR conference online using OPAL. Louise Greene, one of the trainers in IL might be another person who could help with this kind of training.

We might consider holding this training in the off-month between meetings, or schedule it a few times for people to attend which ever time worked best for them. We might also look at holding the training in OPAL, so it could be available more broadly as a recording.

Linda or Joe will post a message on the InfoEyes listserv in the coming month to begin soliciting questions from InfoEyes providers, regarding questions about providing online reference that they've had. That will help us to build the structure of the training.

6. Possible structure for getting together to practice live sessions in iVocalize

This topic was postponed due to lack of time.

7. Status of Live Chat Form

This topic was postponed due to lack of time.

8. Other Business


Linda thanked us all for staying a little late! Sharon set the meeting to record and will see about sharing it with Diana and others following the meeting.

Meeting adjourned at 3:07 p.m. ET.

Next Meeting:

Sept. 21, 2006 at 2:00 pm Eastern / 1:00 pm Central
(Meetings are held every-other month)

Minutes submitted by Joe Thompson