Capping Project
Virtual Reference
Internet Resource

Musuem Internet Resources and Educating Future Historians

There are other elements to a successful digital reference service for historians: Museum Internet resources and adequate instruction of aspiring historians by librarians are additional components to providing digital reference to historians. Museums, like archives can make use of digital technology to enhance the services provided to users, many of whom are historians. The internet provides an excellent opportunity to share and network information about museum exhibits and collections. Sue Ann Cody explains that with “sufficient staff and computing resources” museums have the ability to: use the World Wide Web as “an archive and history of exhibitions since dismantled”, “use the same artifact in different contexts simultaneously”, “provide online searchable databases of artifacts”, and “provide extensive full text materials linked to exhibitions” (52).

The potential for museums to offer detailed and extensive online resources allows historians who are willing, further opportunities to access digital resources and utilize them without, or before, traveling to the museum itself to view exhibits. The potential ability of museums to showcase dismantled exhibits on websites, is particularly alluring as it will ensure historians and other users continued access to an exhibit even after it is no longer assembled and visible in the museum. Other advances in digital resources for museums that will benefit historians include “3-D scanning and replication” for museum artifacts which enables “easy mass distribution of digital data” (Wachowiak and Caras 141). Including digital museum applications in digital reference services for historians allows them the opportunity to have direct and easy access to artifacts and collections, which enables further chances for effective information networking of historical resources. Education of aspiring historians is also essential to a productive digital reference service. Educating and meeting the needs of history graduate students are especially important to ensuring the continuity and increased use of digital reference. Graduate students are, as Strong notes, already susceptible to the benefits of virtual reference: ….graduate students live within their virtual environments and engage the library’s resources in their dorm rooms, offices and research libraries…often without knowing it,they enter the virtual library and access journal articles, databases, and other electronic services. They build and support virtual communities that are relevant to them personally and professionally (337).

Educating graduate students about the benefits of digital reference is, in many ways, easier to accomplish than convincing present day historians of digital reference’s advantages. The literature abounds with suggestions about how to educate graduate students about digital tools, including specific references to history graduate students. Tucker et al notes that “Graduate history students, while more sophisticated about research than most of their peers, can still benefit from more help than they have received in the past. One of the ways librarians are providing this assistance is through…library instruction”. The authors explain that library instruction can range from “general orientation programs” to courses that run for an entire semester; there are options for courses to be offered to graduate students in a particular discipline (Tucker et al 385-386). Information professionals are clearly finding that extended instruction is essential for educating graduate students about digital tools. One orientation program is no longer sufficient to educate students about digital resources; aspiring historians are included in this trend. In terms of meeting the information needs of students, it is clear that the reference interview is vital; students can often feel overwhelmed by the vast array of resources before them. When a librarian is providing digital reference services to a student, including an aspiring historian, it is important to carefully construct the interview and the information you provide. Randy Reichardt stresses the importance of showing the user one or two databases with which to begin their search rather than attempting to impart knowledge about all the databases relating to that discipline (111). Being selective about the information provided will prevent the student user from being overwhelmed by the number of resources available.

John Doherty notes that “if there were less worry about going through the steps of the reference interview and more concern about entering into a dialogue with the user, online reference services would be more effective” (101). Clearly the extensive process required for face to face reference interviews must be abbreviated in mediums such as virtual reference, if such services are to be effective. Meeting the information needs of aspiring historians clearly requires librarians to be cautious and effective when carrying out reference interviews. Meeting the information needs of student historians involves providing them with resources they can effectively use. Education and effective virtual reference service for aspiring historians are vital components of a successful digital reference program for historians; digital museum applications are another aspect that will increase the effectiveness of digital reference services.