"Visually impaired persons in select libraries around the United States are participating in a six-month pilot project which officially opens on Monday, March 22, to test an online information and virtual reference service designed specifically for their needs. The service will be offered through InfoEyes, http://www.infoeyes.org/, a virtual reference and information community for the visually impaired.
Through the pilot project, visually impaired patrons will use QuestionPoint to work with librarians virtually to find what they’re seeking on the Internet. QuestionPoint, the collaborative virtual reference service developed by the Library of Congress and OCLC, helps librarians track and manage questions from patrons through a network of reference librarians around the world.
The Illinois State Library and the Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service are coordinating the pilot project; the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) has provided software and resources. The project will test the effectiveness of assisting the visually impaired in using the Internet.
'The goal of the QuestionPoint service and other online reference services is to increase access to information,' said Frank Hermes, Vice President, OCLC Cooperative Discovery Services. 'The InfoEyes pilot project will increase access to online reference. OCLC is proud to be part of this effort which is consistent with our mission of furthering access to the world’s information.'
In the pilot project, librarians will provide services that include voice over IP, co-browsing, and application sharing. InfoEyes users will be asked to evaluate the service and resources to help librarians further develop the service. Hours of service will be posted on the InfoEyes Web site. If users would like service outside of those hours, they may schedule an appointment or a reference session.
'Virtual reference for the blind and physically handicapped population is nothing short of imperative toward the inclusion of this population in mainstream society,' said Barry Levine, a Talking Book reader and library leader in Illinois.
Libraries participating in the project, which will run from January to July 2004, include: the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in New York City, Cleveland Public Library/Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the Illinois State Library, the Indiana School for the Blind, the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the Library of Congress, Maine State Library Outreach, Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center, Nevada Talking Book Services, Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library, Southern Illinois Talking Book Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, TAP Information Services, For more information, contact Sharon Ruda at firstname.lastname@example.org, Diana Brawley Sussman at email@example.com, Tom Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Lori Bell at email@example.com."