The following is extracted from a mass email to all VRD volunteers (of which I am one), from Blythe Bennett:

… the VRD project will end on June 30, 2005. The US Department of Education has had major budget cuts and unfortunately, we are one of the cuts. For those of you familiar with our annual conference, we will still have this year’s conference in San Francisco, but it is doubtful for 2006. …

The AskA service you participate(d) with will be funded, at least temporarily, by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the Digital Reference Education Initiative (DREI) project. This project was started under VRD several years ago and was then funded by IMLS as “advancing general reference practice and library education”. It is a great web site geared mostly to LIS professors and students with lots of training, syllabi, assignments related to digital reference education, and a detailed set of competencies for digital reference.

When you go to the former VRD Learning Center at you will notice that it has been changed to DREI Learning Center, same URL. The look and feel of the site has changed, we hope it appeals to an older audience, so we can also incorporate more undergraduates, graduates, and the general public. While the first site was geared more toward K12, this one is more open to all audiences. We have also migrated from version 2 of the QABuilder software to Version 3. You will have more sophisticated tools for answering questions. There are some highlights to the new functions at this link,
which is also found on the bottom of the Learning Center site that says V3 Expert.

… I’d like to know if you think doing any of the digital reference work with VRD helped give you an advantage when you were job searching and interviewing. That is one aspect we’d like to promote to IMLS as we look for further funding to keep the service going. Any feedback you can give us to help make our case would be great. …

If you’re reading this & have volunteered for the VRD, if you were in my Reference course for example, please do email Blythe about this.

This is a real shame, and here’s why: information literacy instruction. It’s a shame that the Department of Ed doesn’t seem to see this. My students have heard this rant before, about the reorganization of ERIC and the dismantling of AskERIC. The story I heard about that was something along the lines of, the decision-makers at Ed had the attitude that since they were going to invest in developing the ERIC database & its search functionality, there was no need for human intermediation. A fast search engine trumps human expertise, basically. Thus entirely missing the point of having human expertise in the system; thus entirely failing to understand the purpose of librarianship & the information professions generally.

But automated tools will only get you so far. It’s difficult to teach yourself to evaluate the quality of an information source if you don’t even know that you should be asking the question. It’s difficult to teach yourself how to use information and put it in context if you don’t have any idea about the context. And that, my friends, is one of the big reasons why information professionals are useful: personalized instruction. Maybe we’ll have systems to do that someday, but today is not that day. And so we see VRD possibly going the same route AskERIC went, because Ed doesn’t get that no system in existence can replace plain old pedagogy.

It’s sad, really. But not terribly surprising. Heaven forbid the current administration fund any project that’s actually successful.