Untangling the Web
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Cooking with Prepared Foods: Using Research Assistant and RfGuide to Provide Library Service and Instruction to Distance Learning Students

Marjorie F. MacKenzie
Instruction/Reference Librarian and Outreach Services Librarian
Lewis-Clark State College

The faculty at Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC) are engaged in transforming their traditional classroom-centered curriculum into alternate delivery methods in order to meet the needs of students enrolled in LCSC's Integrated Learning Network (ILN), a Title III-funded distance education program located in a growing number of communities in Northern Idaho. just as the library provides support for traditional classroom learning, so too must it develop ways to deliver library services and instruction to students at distance learning sites. To develop a program of instruction for these students, the author selected Research Assistant (RA), a computer-assisted instruction program designed to teach students the basic steps of the library research process. RA can be customized to reflect the holdings of a particular library, its OPAC, print and CD-ROM indexes. Building upon the basic concepts presented in Research Assistant, the author designed Electronic Research Warrior (ERW), a collection of web pages providing subject-specific Internet and traditional library resources in specific disciplines. More than just an electronic pathfinder listing the important tools in a field, the important feature of ERW is that each resource is annotated. Because many disciplines may benefit from the same reference tool, creating a database of reference works with their annotations can assist in the assembly of individual subject pages on the ERW. RfGuide is such a database. The author served as a beta tester for the software package that came pre-loaded with more than 300 reference works arranged into 30 subject guides. Just released in version 1.0, users of RfGuide can add additional titles, manipulate the titles listed in the subject guides and create additional subject guides. RfGuide then generates a finished product in one of four Microsoft Word formats. The files generated by RfGuide are the basis of the HTML documents that together are the ERW. The annotations enable students to select research tools before they make trip to the library. For students enrolled in distance learning courses, using the ERW can save time when planning a trip to the library and can facilitate getting reference assistance via email. The ERW can be used by students who may never approach the reference desk, thereby providing outreach to a population that traditional reference has never before served. The skills that students learn using Research Assistant and the information that they can access using Electronic Research Warrior will result in a more proficient library user, one who feels more confident about asking for assistance and one who is able to ask more informed questions at the reference desk.

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