The world's first completely virtual university, the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), translated: The Open University of Catalunya, opened its 'doors' for classes in September of 1995. The university is unique in that the 1,500 students who attend the UOC do not sit in lecture halls, sleep in dormitories, or eat in the cafeteria. Rather, they remain at home in front of a PC equipped with a modem which enables them to connect to their classes via the Internet.
UOC classes are accessible through the 'virtual campus' created on the Web. Degrees are offered in Business, Humanities, Law and Pedagogical Psychology. In addition, the campus boasts many of the amenities that are found on an actual campus such as administrative services, bulletin boards, tutoring and counseling services, and, most recently, a virtual library.
The virtual library takes the traditional library concept a step further by endeavoring to create the ideal information management system. Access by the patron is self-directed; there are no spatial barriers and no temporal barriers. Because the library does not actually exist in a physical sense, the UOC had to create a new formula to serve patrons.
When searching for a library automation company to help with this formula, the UOC objective was to find a company that was forward looking and able to tackle the challenges of a distance learning system. The UOC chose VTLS because of its proven success in automating all aspects of other Catalan libraries and for its Virtua-Web Gateway product. Sra. Adoracio Perez, library director of UOC stated, "The Virtua-Web Gateway made visiting our virtual library a pleasure and in fact, the library is now a favorite site of the virtual campus at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya."
The formula for patron service is simple. Using the Virtua-Web Gateway, students browse the virtual library catalog and/or connect directly to electronic documents via the Web (http://biblio.uoc.es:8080). Once an item has been chosen from the catalog, the student then clicks on an icon that brings up an order form. This order form requests the student's personal information and the information for the requested book. The student then has several delivery options to choose from: a) the book can be sent to the student's home, b) the book can be sent to an alternate address, or c) the student can opt to pick up the material in person at one of the four libraries that the UOC has opened around the country.
The UOC also uses VTLS EasyCAT for editing its records. For example, EasyCAT is being used to add the 856 tag to records associated with multimedia items. This allows students using the Virtua-Web Gateway access to full text. For example, a student may link to the Spanish constitution or to various legislative documents of the Generalitat de Catalunya, both located on another server at a different location. These links allow law students to read firsthand the legislative documents which interest them most.
There are two 'virtual librarians' to help students during the day. Communication with the librarians is done by email through the virtual campus and the response time is virtually instantaneous.
The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya operates in coordination and cooperation with the Catalan university system. The VTLS software is operating on a Sun Ultra server running under Sun Solaris 2.5 with a VTLS 32-user level license. The entire library system is maintained by five librarians and a system manager. In addition to the primary VTLS software, the UOC also purchased a copy of the Virtua-Web Gateway and EasyCAT.