Library Council, University of Toronto Libraries

So Near and Yet So Far: Reaching out to the Patron at a Distance

Report of the Task Force on Services at a Distance submitted to University of Toronto Library Council, March 2000


We are living in the midst of a fundamental cultural change in society. The student population entering university today is composed of individuals who have grown up with the computer, with all that that implies, and who may accurately be described as the "Web Generation".

This fundamental change is reflected in the way in which library patrons now access our services. The use of electronic resources provided by the University of Toronto Libraries is changing: usage statistics suggest that 88% of access is from outside the Libraries, just 12% from within; and 25% of all access occurs outside what we think of as normal library hours. This evidence of shifting behaviour and expectations in the user, and the necessity of responding to it, provide the basis for this report. We believe that library services and resources are as important as ever to our patrons. We must continue to provide these services, but deliver them differently within this changing electronic framework.

The Task Force defines "services at a distance" as services for those faculty, staff and students of the University of Toronto who are using the Libraries' services from a remote location. This patron does not present him/herself in person at a service point. He/she may be within the Library, at a public workstation as close as 5 metres to a service desk during normal business hours, or 5,000 kilometres away in the small hours of the morning. He/she may be accessing services from home, residence, office or other location, and may or may not be enrolled in a traditional distance education course. Regardless of how remote the access, this patron is entitled to library service on a par with the one who presents him/herself in person. Ways to achieve this are suggested in this report.

This Task Force arose out of discussions at the Reference Services Committee concerning the provision of library services at a distance. The Task Force has subsequently received additional advice from this group, as well as invaluable information from many other individuals within the University of Toronto community. In particular Carole Moore, Chief Librarian, Ann Rae from the Bora Laskin Law Library, and Jay Moonah from the Centre for Academic Technology took the time to make presentations to the group, and their input is noted with appreciation. Further details can be found in the meeting minutes. The Task Force also wishes to thank Laurie Scott, Executive Director of the Health Science Information Consortium of Toronto, for her valuable contribution to the process.

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