VRRs support equity as their use is not limited to those who can afford to travel. This is particularly important for institutions whose collections have a broad, international reach. They can blur borders and bring collections from different institutions or organisations together in a wholly new, unique and powerful way.
VRRs allow users to evaluate if they want to schedule an in-person visit as they can provide useful information beyond the single collection description line. It is about respecting people’s time and letting them scope out their visit. The ecological benefits that VRRs have by reducing long-haul and short-haul travel are also of considerable importance.
Most users use VRRs to do one or more of the following:
- To conduct preliminary research
- As a precursor to a physical visit
- To make a digitisation request
- To check single documents
- For referencing purposes
Users can have different needs when using VRRs. Some may want to record and view later, while others may just want to get a feel for an item and establish if they want to make a digitisation request or visit in the future. Some may want to view the whole item, some are looking for particular features or would like to compare to other institutional holdings.
VRRs can provide more than a visual experience: with a microphone set-up they can provide a more complete sensory experience with the sounds of pages turning (and their crackling) in older books; lead into other sensory discussions around the smell of the paper, it’s production; the scale and heft of the object. Thus, they can be equally used for conducting original research and teaching a variety of user groups (from students to experts). However, extensive research on collection items, such as uncatalogued material, through VRRs is not advised as it can be too time consuming for library staff.
They also have strong cultural capability as they can help open up collections and make them available to a wide range of communities. They can be used to encourage greater collaboration with and participation by community members who may not traditionally engage with institutional collections, such as First Nation communities in Australia. For example, by joining a VRR session through Zoom or similar, community members can see collections in real time. They can, then, make decisions on whether they want certain collection items to be digitised or voice their opinion on whether certain digitisation initiatives are inappropriate, and influence decisions on the level of access to these materials for others. In a similar way, VRRs can be used to evaluate material for cultural gifts.
There is still a need to build reputation and get recognition from researchers and the library community has a role to play in ensuring and supporting the legitimacy and validity of VRR research compared to traditional consultation (and its status) and role for libraries. Identifying and collaborating with academic VRR champions is a proven way of enhancing visibility and usage of the services. The establishment of best practice and cross-sector collaboration can increase benefits for users and institutions; however, issues around resourcing and sustainability of the services should not be overlooked.
Recommended resources on the VRR user perspective: