InfoEyes: Digital Reference and Electronic Resource
Instruction for Visually Impaired
Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service
Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center, Southern Illinois Talking Book Center
The Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center (MITBC), a subregional library located in central Illinois, serving individuals with visual, physical, and learning disabilities, investigated the use of virtual reference services and web-based customer services with talking book patrons during July and August. This was done under the leadership of the Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service.
The Illinois Network of Libraries Serving the Blind in Illinois proposes to work with OCLC on a collaborative, multi-state virtual reference/electronic resource trial using OCLC QuestionPoint with enhanced communication software. The proposed project would run from January 1, 2004 - July 30, 2004. The project is based on using one or more profiles, with a goal of five participating libraries and no limit to the total number involved. The current profile set up for the MITBC and Southern Illinois Talking Book Center (SITBC) could be shared with other participants. Once the project is operational, the service would be available 40 hours per week.., The number of hours each library would be expected to contribute per week will depend on the number of libraries involved. For example, if ten libraries participate, each will spend four hours in coverage time. If there are less than ten participating libraries, the number of hours the service is offered might be reduced. Services would include: virtual reference service; scheduled one-on-one instructional sessions for individuals; access to electronic resources including FirstSearch and netLibrary and training on these resources. A central web page for "InfoEyes" would be set up and participating libraries could link to that page with a button. Other libraries and agencies would be invited to put up a link or logo for "InfoEyes" as well.
- Establish a national model for providing virtual reference services and electronic resources to the visually impaired.
- Work with OCLC in making QuestionPoint an accessible software platform for the visually impaired.
- Determine and evaluate what features of the software are most helpful in serving this population.
- Offer access to electronic resources (FirstSearch and netLibrary) to the visually impaired.
- Investigate how this software could be used to offer training on electronic resources, such as FirstSearch and netLibrary, in order to increase information literacy skills of the visually impaired.
- Work with libraries to provide online reference services to the visually impaired.
- Test audio (voice over IP) in offering digital reference services.
- Test a collaborative, multi-state model for virtual reference services.
From January 1, 2004 - July 30, 2004, under the leadership of the Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service, a collaborative, multi-state virtual reference and electronic resource center will be offered to the visually impaired residents of participating states.
Proposed Project Timeline
- Project approval
- Jean Wilkins approaches other state agencies about participation
- Announcement about project is placed on talking book library electronic list to solicit participation
- Deadline for participation: November 30, 2003
- Set up electronic list for participants
- Introductory online meeting for participants to meet and discuss project
January 1, 2003
- Project participants receive QuestionPoint with enhanced communication training via Placeware
- Practice sessions between participants
- Web page/pages set up for project with virtual reference service and access to FirstSearch and netLibrary
- Monthly online meeting of participants
- Schedule for service set up
- Publicity materials and logo designed
- Feedback survey for patrons developed by Project Evaluator
- Draft policies and guidelines for service
- Training via Placeware on FirstSearch and netLibrary for participating libraries
- Monthly online meeting for participants
- Policies and guidelines review
- Icons will be posted on web sites of participating Talking Book Centers to promote InfoEyes as an accessible supplement to an existing virtual reference service.
Icons will be shared with other types of libraries as well.
- Service publicized - newsletters, press releases and brochures sent to talking book patrons, universities, libraries, schools and other agencies serving the visually impaired in service areas
- Service opens - participating librarians react to QuestionPoint through surveys designed by the project directors and OCLC staff
- Feedback session is held in monthly online meeting
- Survey feedback is shared
- Monthly online meeting
- Project Evaluator writes three-month progress report
- Monthly online meeting
- Results of progress report shared
- Monthly online meeting
- Discussion of continuation
- Review of satisfaction surveys
July 30, 2004
- Pilot project ends
- Online feedback meeting
- Final report is written by Project Evaluator and shared with Illinois State Library staff, OCLC staff, project participants and other audiences as appropriate
- Implementation of continuation plan
Questions We Hope to Answer
Not many libraries are currently offering virtual reference services with audio or specifically for the visually impaired. Here are some questions that this project should answer in the six-month trial.
- Does audio improve the transaction in any way?
- Does it work well over dial-up bandwidth?
- Is it troublesome to download a plug-in to use the audio? To use any audio or video application over the Internet, an individual has to download a plug-in.
- Can audio be effectively used over a dial-up connection?
- Does audio make a difference to a user who is visually impaired?
- How does this sort of project work within a collaborative multi-state project work?
- How does the service work with a link from public, academic, and school libraries to the service? How does the service work with a link to the service from existing mainstream virtual reference services?
- With audio capabilities, does the screen reading software remain important for interaction?
- In what ways is screen reading software compatible or incompatible with virtual reference software?
- With audio, how can a session be recorded? With text, the chat session can be easily saved for statistical purposes.
- In using audio, does the librarian have to do a lot of troubleshooting with the patron?
- What guidelines or tips can be developed for troubleshooting virtual reference service for the visually impaired user?
- What features of the software are most effective in serving this population?
- What improvements or adaptations could be made to improve the accessibility of virtual reference software for visually impaired and other print-impaired users?
- How familiar with adaptive/assistive technology do librarians providing this service need to be?
- What kind of publicity was most effective in marketing the service?
After the trial period ends in June, Project Evaluator Tom Peters will write a detailed report on the project. Tom Peters is currently the evaluation consultant on another pilot project involving talking book libraries, the Lobe Library (http://www.lobelibrary.org), and has extensive consulting and project evaluation experience. The report will be published on participant websites and its availability will be publicized on electronic lists. The value of mainstreaming accessibility and the process designed to accomplish this will be discussed in a professional journal article written by project developers.
Responsibilities of Participating Libraries
Libraries must agree to the following to participate...
- Attend online training sessions on the use of QuestionPoint with enhanced communication software, FirstSearch, and netLibrary
- Send a representative to monthly online meetings
- Staff the virtual desk for four hours per week for all participating libraries
- Publicize the service
- Provide OCLC with feedback on use of the software and participate in evaluation report
- Provide access to QuestionPoint Enhanced software
- Provide Placeware training for participants on the QuestionPoint Enhanced software, FirstSearch, and netLibrary
- Attend online monthly meetings
- Provide technical support for project participants
- Facilitate introductory meeting and final feedback meeting