The meeting began with a demonstration of the Vsee software and the associated hardware that has been tested this spring to offer reference service between Douglass and Kilmer Libraries. The demonstration was well attended and the librarians were impressed with the potential for sharing virtual reference among the New Brunswick libraries or system wide. The version of the software we are using is free. We already have five microphones/cameras and if we need more, they are only about seventy-five dollars. Using the virtual reference software and the software for the microphone/camera is very straight forward. The most impressive feature of Vsee is that it allows both locations to share applications. This means that a librarian and a user could, for example, share a browser and work through a search in a database together. It was noted that librarians could also use Vsee for virtual research consultations, if the faculty member or student had a microphone and camera on their computer and a Vsee account. Setting up an account is easy and free.
At the ISSG meeting following the demonstration the steering group and other information services librarians present proposed a pilot project for this summer. We would offer virtual reference for the Douglass and Kilmer Libraries for one shift per day, Monday through Thursday. The pilot would begin as early as possible in the first summer session and run through the beginning of the summer intersession, August 13. The purpose of the pilot would be to determine if we can use Vsee to make more efficient use of librarians' time and expertise in the face of declining in-person reference transactions, decreased staffing levels and a potentially drastic budget cut. The steering group chair will confer with the Associate University Librarian for Research and Instruction on this matter.
To plan for the pilot, the steering group chair would request volunteers from among the New Brunswick librarians. Each library at which librarians agreed to participate would then decide from which computer or computers to provide the service. The test between Douglass and Kilmer this spring demonstrated that it is not feasible to provide in-person and virtual reference service at the same time. The reference team leader at Kilmer would consider the most effective times during which to offer the service, in consultation with the reference team leader at Douglass and Natalie Borisovets, who schedules meebo chat reference. Librarians at both libraries would decide, with advice from access services staff, where to place the computer users will access to ask reference questions virtually. Their unit computing specialists would provide technical advice and assistance. Finally, the steering group chair would confer with the Libraries' Communication Director to discuss plans for promoting the service.