NZ students getting a hand in the quest for knowledge in cyberspace

Sun kicks in $250,000

Sun Microsystems has kicked in $250,000 to finance a service involving both “live” librarians and a search engine to enable students online to find the right material for study projects in the nation's library holdings.

Although trumpeted as a victory for a New Zealand company over international competition, the service, called, uses Docutek VRLplus software developed by a US company, Docutek Information Systems.

Docutek VRLplus will be hosted by New Zealand service provider Datacom and linked to resources of expertise at the National Library, the Auckland, Manukau, Wellington and Christchurch city libraries, the Horowhenua Library Trust, the Ministry of Education, Te Kete Ipurangi, the Correspondence School and the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa.

Librarians will guide students through one-on-one screen text “chat” much like MSN chat in its format, says project manager Michaela O’Donovan. “They can escort a user to a website, point things out to them with a cursor that will appear on their screen and even push pages [of information] to them."

The service has been tailored to present an English and Maori interface. The original product also has an email channel, but most New Zealand libraries have that already, says O’Donovan, so it has been dropped from the NZ implementation of VRL Plus.

For deeper exploration, the user can go through the VRL interface and on into the Epic collection of databases. Though Epic stands for "e-purchasing in collaboration," access to these databases will also be free to the user.

"As a New Zealand-based solution it offers quicker response times for students, which is of real importance to those outside the main towns and cities, as well as localised support for us so we can keep the service running.” O’Donovan says.

The service is planned to go fully live in November.

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