Please provide your institutional context and discuss why you decided to develop VRR and/ or VTS services.
The Huntington’s research library closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Following several months of closure with no opening date on the horizon, longtime and new researchers began inquiring about access to the collections. As a special collections library, our mission is to support primary research, and we were looking to create a reading room-like service that would be a better alternative to requesting mass quantities of reproductions. After experimenting with several document cameras, the Reader Services staff created a new pilot service called the “Virtual Reading Room” which launched officially on November 1, 2020. The service allows all researchers to gain access to our rare materials remotely through a scheduled, one-hour online session using a high-resolution document camera and videoconferencing software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. During the session, participants are allowed to view one rare book or one box of manuscript materials. A virtual reading room appointment is much like a visit to the physical reading room. It is not a research consultation with a subject expert; but rather a service to view rare materials remotely. Even though our reading room physically opened to readers on July 1, 2021, we continue to offer the service and almost 200 individual researchers have used it.
If you are already offering VRR and/ or VTS services, please describe what takes place before, during, and shortly after a ‘typical’ session (e.g. engagement with users, delivery of the session, feedback gathering). If you are currently planning to offer such services, please discuss how you envisage a ‘typical’ session.
Researchers request an appointment to “visit” the Virtual Reading Room through our online request form or a member of the Reference team may suggest a VRR appointment during a reference transaction. Staff make the appointment and pages materials for the session. Awkward, fragile, or oversize items can be difficult to accommodate. We do not turn our cameras on and follow the preferences of the researcher for communication during the session – voice or chat. After a brief introduction to the session and the camera software, we usually mute ourselves, so the researcher can focus on the object(s). During the session, instruct staff to turn pages, capture images, and zoom in/out through the chat feature or by voice. They are invited to complete a survey at the end of each visit. Almost all feedback has been positive, and the service has been used by researchers locally, nationally, and abroad. Although the service is available to all researchers, we have created a VRR user profile for remote researchers which has been beneficial to requesting and analytics.