In Sweden there is one consortium for virtual reference for each public and research library. The research libraries’ service Librarian On Duty, which uses VRLplus, is a pedagogical service where the patron gets a personal guidance by a librarian via chat and co-browsing. Librarian On Duty is more of a general resource than a specialist resource. This means that very specialised questions may not be answered directly, but instead be directed to the most suitable librarian. Depending on the patron’s requirements, the librarian on duty can transfer the question to a colleague at the same library or to another library within the consortia. Librarian on Duty is already in use by half of Sweden’s research libraries.
The corresponding service for the public libraries, Ask the Library, is a virtual reference service with many years of experience, the e-mail service was started already in 1998, now consists of 36 libraries that answer e-mail questions and 14 of those libraries also taking part in a chat service. To make a whole new collaboration between and within the consortia possible, the public libraries will change systems to VRLplus, i.e. the same system that is used by the research libraries.
By organizing in two consortia, using the same software, there is a possibility for the two library types to develop a whole new model for collaboration. This new model implies that each library has its own local installation to give service to their local users in the first hand. Each library also participates in one of the national consortia where there is a collaboration to give service during evenings and weekends.
The new possibilities for cooperation means that each library, by using the systems bridge between the consortia, can define new collaborative partners and thus create whole new virtual reference services. These new services may consist of public, school and research libraries within a region, ”Ask Stockholm”. It may also be a subject based cooperation within the research libraries, e.g. ”Ask The Law Librarian”. Other examples may include cooperation between children’s libraries, “Ask The Children’s Librarian”.
The operators staffing the different services will always get an indication if the question is coming from the local, national or some of the other services that are connected to the operator’s library.
This means increased possibilities for specialization and development, and whole new collaborative constellations between libraries can emerge, while still maintaining the basic responsibility for the local users.
Stockholm: Svensk förening för informationsspecialister , 2004. Vol. 59, no 3, 71-75 p.