Friday, February 29, 2008

What is a Virtual Library?

Until recently, my understanding of this concept was based on being able to access a library’s OPAC from my home computer to search for, reserve and renew books. This saved hours of my time and I was thrilled with the convenience. Now, as I work on courses in an online distance learning program, I have learned that I can also search for resources, including databases, remotely, through the virtual library at the University of Alberta. Virtual libraries in universities have levelled the academic playing field. As long as a registered student has a computer with an internet connection, they have access to materials in the university library, whether they are in Anchorage, Sioux Lookout, Burns Lake or in the city where the university is located.

More that just access, many virtual libraries offer services a real librarian might typically offer, like citation guides, copyright information, library cards and questions answered (via instant messaging or email). Joyce Valenza’s Springfield Township High School virtual library (outstanding in its field of virtual school libraries) offers a virtual tour, extensive links for students and teachers, online lessons, a list of pathfinders (including one called College Search) as well as access to the library catalogue and databases.

Many schools have library websites, designed to promote library events and give information about library hours, staff and programs. Some of these websites are also portals into the school’s virtual library, where resources can be accessed and library services and instruction are available online, 24/7.

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