INLS 501: Internet Public Library

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The Internet Public Library (IPL) is both a public service organization and a learning/teaching environment. Volunteer answerers respond to questions submitted by users via a webform. Volunteers include librarians from around the world, as well as library students.

As an historical note, the IPL was originally created in a graduate seminar on Reference, much like this course, in the School of Information and Library Studies at the University of Michigan in the Winter 1995 semester. The goal of the original IPL project was to explore the integration of distributed networked environment into libraries.

For this assignment you will gain experience with providing asynchronous digital reference service. You will go through the IPL Student and Volunteer Training Manual, answer a practice question, and then 3 real questions from real users. The practice question is for, well, practice; the 3 real questions are are for a grade. Each component is explained in detail below.

Training and Practice Question

There is nothing that you need to do to set up an account with the IPL. I will send a list of students' names to the IPL, and the IPL administrators will create accounts for all students, before you begin work on this assignment.

Before you begin work on this assignment, read the IPL Student and Volunteer Training Manual.

The IPL's introduction to QRC for an LIS class follows these steps:

  1. Student reads the online documentation and views online presentations in the IPL Student and Volunteer Training Manual
  2. Student emails User Services Coordinator to confirm that he or she has read and participated in all training activities
  3. Student completes at least one response to a question from the practice categories designated for their class and submits a Practice Question Form (detailed in Part 9 of online training materials)
  4. Student’s response is evaluated by the IPL User Services Coordinator
  5. If the student’s response(s) meets the standards described in the online manuals, the student receives permission to begin answering “real” questions

Real Question-Answering

Following completion of your training question, you will select & answer 3 actual questions received by the IPL service. You may not begin to claim real reference questions until you have completed the training question and received feedback on your responses from the IPL User Services Coordinator. Each real question must be answered within 24 hours (though you can ask the IPL admins for more time if you need it).

Claim a question, compose an answer, & submit it. Actually, what I recommend is that you compose an answer offline, in the word processor or text editor of your choice, & then paste it into the Answer field.

If you get stuck while composing your answer, or need help with IPL policies, you can ask for help using the Post-a-Note feature in QRC. When you post a note, an IPL admin will reply to you.

Upon submitting your answer, you may request feedback from the IPL on up to 3 answers per semester. I encourage you to do this, since the feedback you receive from the IPL will be different than the feedback you receive from me. I will read the IPL's feedback to you, if there is any, but this will not form the basis for my grading of your answers.

I will read your answer, grade it, & if I have anything to add to what the IPL administrator said, also give you feedback on it.

Unfortunately there is no feedback mechanism in QRC, for me to provide feedback directly to you. I will also prompt discussions on the course site about the experience of answering asynchronous online reference questions.

Reflection on Question-Answering

For each question you answer, you must write a post in which you evaluate the sources that you selected to include in your response. In this post, briefly review each source that you selected. These reviews must contain the following:

  1. Evaluation: A brief explanation of why the source is useful for answering the given question. What relevant information does it contain? Why is it appropriate for the questioner, given his/her level of knowledge / grade / etc.? Who or what is the authority behind the source / how trustworthy is the source? This is especially interesting if the information provided by different sources does not agree.
  2. The reference interview: At least two questions that you would ask the patron if you were able to engage in question negotiation with him/her.

If you select a source that exists in two (or more) different media (e.g., the OED, the Encyclopædia Britannica), your review should compare and contrast the source in the different media: differences and similarities in organization, structure, functionality, usefulness, etc.

Give your post the category IPL.

Note Regarding Email Addresses and FERPA

All communication from the IPL will be sent to the email address on file with the UNC Registrar. Students are responsible for forwarding their email from this email address to their preferred email account.

For security reasons all students participating with the IPL must have their own logins and passwords to QRC. Students may not share accounts.

Under the policy established by FERPA, permission from the student is required to provide a student's email address to the IPL. For this assignment, we will use an "opt-out" procedure: you must contact me by two weeks before the IPL practice questions are due to withdraw consent. For further information about FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), read more about it here.

At the End of the Semester

You may continue as an IPL volunteer after the end of the semester, if you wish, but this is not a requirement of this course. By default, at the end of the semester the IPL reduces student permissions in QRC (that is, accounts are not deleted, but they are placed on an "inactive" list). Your work with the IPL is for a course assignment, so it's perfectly appropriate for you to stop working with the IPL when the course ends. If you wish to continue to volunteer for the IPL after this assignment is completed, however, let me know, and I will ask the IPL administrators not to deactivate your account. The IPL is always in need of volunteers.


Note #1: I only grade the real questions, not the practice question.

Note #2: All deadlines for this assignment are soft. I understand that certain things about working with the IPL are beyond your control. First, receiving your login info for QRC, and then receiving approval of your response to your practice question, is dependent on how quickly the IPL admins get to you. Bear in mind that there are several Reference courses every semester in which students are doing essentially the same assignment you are, so IPL admins often have hundreds of students to approve. Second, your ability to claim real questions is dependent on enough users having submitted questions to the IPL for hundreds of students. This is all the more reason for you to plan ahead, and start working on the various parts of this assignment as early as possible.

5 points per question = 15 points total

Your answer to each question will be evaluated according to the following rubric. I will assign one point for each item, per question:

  1. You found the answer to the question.
  2. You found the answer in appropriate sources, and used more than one source.
  3. You discuss the details of the answer you found, including disambiguating any ambiguities in the question.
  4. You discuss the details of the sources you used: features, pros and cons, what the sources included and did not include, appropriate evaluation criteria, etc.
  5. You discuss the details of your searching process, for and within each source.

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