Monday, November 08, 2004

E-Scan and Virtual Reference

As I blog today, I'm sitting at the registration desk at the 6th Annual Virtual Reference Desk Conference, which OCLC Member Services co-sponsors with the Information Institute at Syracuse University and ALA's RUSA (Reference and User Services Association). The conference opened this morning with a rousing oration by "Virtual Dave" Lankes on what reference wants to be when it grows up, and by Eva Miller from the Multnomah County Library who addressed the "Improvisational Librarian." I don't want to spoil this for you in case you ever have the great good fortune of hearing Eva, but suffice it to say she had the whole audience of 250 or so people riffing lyrics and music to the results of a survey she'd done. Dave Lankes has been one of the driving forces behind Virtual Reference Desk for the better part of a decade now. Dave, as I said in my introduction this morning, has the uncanny ability to be intense without being creepy. He is passionately committed to the future of reference, whatever that might be, but he doesn't make your skin crawl when he's talking about it.

The point I made during my very brief opening remarks is that virtual reference is a sterling example of what is driving the landscape at the moment. (OK, full disclosure moment: my portfolio at OCLC also includes responsibility for QuestionPoint and 24/7 Reference.) Virtual reference allows us to offer our services at the point of need (or, as I heard Lorcan Dempsey quote someone the other day, "the point of inspiration.") It allows us to disaggregate collections, making service available across a wide geographic area without necessarily having a large collection of materials close at hand. It allows us to collaborate in new and interesting and even challenging ways.

We have about 350 or 375 people here in Cincinnati (at the amazingly beautiful Hilton Netherland Hotel) for the conference, attendees, speakers, staff, and exhibitors included. There is a lively exchange of ideas happening in the meetings, the corridors, and (inevitably at a library conference) in the bar. If you want to know what we're doing, check out the previous conference proceedings on the Syracuse site, and Neal-Schuman will be publishing the proceedings in hardcover form next year.

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