Library DrawingThe CONNector

NOVEMBER 2002 Volume 4 Number 4

Reaching Remote Users with Virtual Reference

Hilary T. Frye, Legal Reference Specialist

a new web service from your law library

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Look for this logo on your library's web site to chat with a reference librarian.

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Monday through Thursday,
9 am - 7 pm
Friday, 9 am - 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday, 1 pm - 5 pm


The Law/Legislative Reference Unit at the Connecticut State Library (CSL) is participating in a virtual reference pilot program sponsored by the New England Law Library Consortium (NELLCO).

Through the use of interactive and web conferencing technology, CSL and the NELLCO libraries are reaching out to a wider audience of remote users. "Virtual reference" means communication is instant and reciprocal. The "chat room" aspect provides a "real time" connection between the librarian and the user.

A collaborative browsing feature of the software allows librarians to educate remote users on search strategies and evaluation of websites. This collaborative browsing software permits the law librarian to send a website to the remote user's browser or direct a remote user's browser to a website and steer the user through the website. This Virtual Reference service provides remote customers with the expertise of a trained law librarian. The librarian works with the remote customer on-line to tailor and direct a customized Internet search.

The pilot project was launched on Tuesday, September 3, 2002, and will continue through May, 2003. Nineteen NELLCO member libraries are participating in the Virtual Reference Pilot Project. Each of the participating libraries covers a portion of the weekly schedule. When a customer clicks into the service, the question may be answered by a law librarian from Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, or Pennsylvania! Each participating library is assigned certain hours on the schedule. Connecticut State Library works Wednesdays [1:00-3:00 p.m.] and Fridays [11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.]

Some Connecticut customers have been surprised to click the logo on the CSL website and get a librarian from another state. One Connecticut customer had the following dialog when using the service:

Connecticut User: I am looking for the Connecticut Statute that allows hunters to donate legally harvested wild game to Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens. The law was signed by Gov. Rowland in July of 1995. It is commonly known as the "Hunters for the Hungry" Law.

Massachusetts Trial Court Librarian (MTCL): I will try to locate it for you, but it will take me a few minutes. I work in a library in Mass.

Connecticut User: OK. I thought I was contacting the CT library in Hartford.

MTCL Librarian: We share the work, so the service can be supported every day.

MTCL Librarian: I'm sending you the website for Connecticut Statutes, Section 26-78a. [Page sent]

Connecticut User: Thanks, You folks are great. I've been trying to locate this law for the past week.

Librarians providing this service will not provide legal advice. Legal advice is defined as including but not limited to:

  1. Advising a patron on how to pursue a legal action (what cause of action is available, what remedies to seek, what pleadings to file, etc.);

  2. evaluating a cause of action;

  3. Interpreting contract clauses, statutes, cases or regulations;

  4. opining on the quality of an attorney's work product or strategy;

  5. opining on the decision of a court or judge;

  6. pointing to a legal resource as "the answer".

NELLCO has established a listserv for the Virtual Reference Project to facilitate ongoing review and evaluation of the service. In November NELLCO reference librarians will meet in Springfield to discuss the progress of the project.

The service is being offered Monday-Thursday from 9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m., Friday from 9:00 a.m - 5:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. The service is called Library LAWLINE, and there is a clickable logo on the state library website under New & Noteworthy.

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