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See You See A Librarian Final Report

This is the final report of the See You See A Librarian Project. In a sentence, the Project was a qualified success.

Project description

It has been said, "Two heads are better than one." Meaning, if more than one person works on a problem, then solutions to problems are more likely to occur. See You See a Librarian was an attempt to put this platitude into practice using the video conferencing technology.

More specifically, See You See a Librarian was a structured opportunity for librarians to share common problems and solutions with an audience of their peers. Its purpose was explore the feasibility of long distance, real time communication for the exchange of ideas between librarians and quite possibly between librarians and other information seekers. Put another way, the See You See A Librarian Project's primary goal was to discover whether or not video conferencing technology like CU-SeeMe could be used in libraries to enhance information/knowledge services.

This particular goal was not answered because too few people (librarians) had access to the hardware and software necessary to do video conferencing. This is unfortunate since the baseline software to do video conferencing is free and the video hardware is as close as a person's home video camera or a $100-$200 camera specifically designed for computers. Libraries seemed unwilling to incur this sort of hardware expense without immediate applications in which to use it.

Project's structure

See You See a Librarian was a time limited project that took place in the Summer of 1996. It was divided into three stages with specific goals:
Stage One - Feasibility (July 7 to July 31)
The purpose of this stage was to learn how many librarians have the necessary hardware, software, and willingness to explore the use of video conferencing technologies. During this time librarians were encouraged to install the CU-SeeMe software on their computers and connect to the echoing reflectors of the Sunsite at UC-Berkeley or the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries. Any discussions that ensued during these first "meetings" were intentionally unstructured.

Stage Two - Librarians on Librarianship (August 1 to August 31)
If there was deemed to be a high demand for this type of service, exemplified by continuous participation of the library community, then Stage Two was to ensue. The purpose of Stage Two was to limit the scope of discussion to library issues. It was intended to be a forum for the real time discussion of library issues like reference services, cataloging resources, collection management, or acquisitions.

Stage Three - Librarians Fostering Knowledge (September 1 to September 30)
If enough librarians had the necessary hardware, software, and time to make Stage One a "success", and if enough librarians have enough to contribute in Stage Two, then the purpose of Stage Three was to open the discussion up to information seekers needing assistance.

During this stage, people outside the library community were encouraged to participate. It was at this time when reference questions would be fielded, information organization issues would be addressed, or advice would be given on locating particular pieces of information.

Further support for the Project was provided through a mailing list, SEE-A-LIBRARIAN-L. (The mailinglist's archive is available online.)

Limited success of Stage One

Each of the three stages meet with limited success. A number of people subscribed to the mailing list. It was encouraging that the subscribers were from all over the globe.

Stage One was met with enthusiasm as described in a preliminary report. To summarize the report:
  • more at least 300 connections were made to either the reflector at the Sunsite or NCSU
  • more connections were made in the afternoon (EST) than other times of the day
  • Some of the people connecting were from the United Kingdom and Mexico, but the majority of people were from the United States
  • the necessary resources to do complete video and audio I/O are few and far between in libraries

The debate that never was

In an effort to make more people aware of the Project and participate, the idea of facilitating a debate was explored. The concept was simple. Identify two people who could articulate opposing sides of a library-related issue. Have them use video conferencing to express their view points, and have an audience "lurk" while the debate took place. This activity would eliminate the need for the audience to have video or audio I/O capabilities; audience participants would only need the CU-SeeMe software.

At the time of the Project there was a headed discussion on a mailing list (Web4Lib) surrounding the topic of cataloging Internet resources. An effort was made to identify people representing each side of the issue. These people were contacted and asked whether or not they would be willing to share their ideas to a live audience via CU-SeeMe. While the Project could identify six articulate people who were willing to express their ideas, not one of these people had access the a video camera. Some of these people even worked for large libraries or library-support institutions.

In short, the debate never took place, again, because the necessary hardware was not available for use by the participants.

Positive outcomes

At the same time, many positive things came out of the project. First of all, professional awareness of the project was high. Many people, while unable to participate, knew of the project's existence.

The Project made the national news twice. Once in Academe Today in an article entitled "Librarians Use Videoconferencing to Connect with Patrons, Colleagues." This article hilights the success of a similar project taking place in the undergraduate libraries of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

The second article is a bit meatier and describes the See You See A Librarian project in more detail. See InterNIC News in an article called "An Interview with Eric Lease Morgan"

Future directions

Despite the fact that this project did not attract hordes of librarians, nor improve library/information services to any great degree, I still believe the use of video conferencing can be used effectively in a library setting. Librarians just need to purchase the hardware and get started.

For example, the service being provided in Ann Arbor demonstrates the concept's feasibility. CU-SeeMe reflectors could be restricted by IP addresses so librarians would not have to offer services to outside constituents. The possibilities for distance education, a hot topic now-a-days, are limitless.

In summary, the video conferencing is a technology facilitating an alternative communication medium. A primary function of libraries is the communication of information, knowledge, and ideas to people. The use of something like CU-SeeMe is just one implementation of such a technology and could still be put to great use in a library setting.

Author(s): Morgan, Eric Lease (eric_morgan@ncsu.edu)
Date updated: 12/13/96; 1:30:58 PM
Subject(s): CU-SeeMe ; video conferencing
URL: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/~emorgan/see-a-librarian/index.html