IARLA: international working group to explore the collaborative potential of Virtual Reading Rooms (VRRs) and Virtual Teaching Spaces (VTSs)

The International Alliance of Research Library Associations (IARLA) has convened this cross-sector working group to explore the development and delivery of Virtual Reading Rooms (VRRs) and Virtual Teaching Spaces (VTSs). The working group includes representatives of IARLA members, key stakeholder bodies and organisations, and members of the wider heritage/cultural communities. 


VRRs and VTSs provide human-mediated remote digital access to collections which do not require digitisation. Through the use of live streaming via visualisers located within physical reading rooms, scholars, teachers or members of the public can view and digitally engage with an institution’s heritage and cultural collections, asking for these to be positioned and interrogated by a member of staff, to enable their research. 

Over 2020-2021 research libraries and cultural institutions around the world have invested in ceiling-mounted and desktop visualisers to enable the creation of virtual reading rooms and classrooms. A survey was conducted by Research Libraries UK (RLUK) across May-June 2021, and circulated to IARLA members, to explore the development and delivery of VRR and VTS services amongst the international research library and cultural communities. 

RLUK has recently published the results of this survey in a research report and further explored the delivery of these services via an interactive workshop at this year’s Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities conference. Both the research report and a recording of the conference workshop are available here. 

Role of the working group 

There is considerable interest regarding the ongoing development and delivery of Virtual Reading Rooms and Virtual Teaching Space services from amongst research libraries and across the cultural and heritage sectors. 

The purpose of the working group is to explore the international collaborative opportunities presented by the development and delivery of VRRs and VTSs amongst research libraries and other collection-holding institutions. In particular, the role of the working group is to: 

  • Provide a forum for knowledge exchange and the sharing of experiences between institutions who have or intend to create Virtual Reading Rooms or Virtual Teaching Spaces. 
  • Envisage, plan or support events to showcase the experience of the international research library and collection-holding community in the development and delivery of these services. 
  • Explore the possibility of creating an agreed framework of characteristics or features that constitute a VRR or VTS service between institutions that have or are developing these. 
  • Explore the collaborative opportunities posed by VRRs and VTSs between institutions, including in relation to their discovery, use, and networking. 

Secretariat support will be offered by Research Libraries UK.


Working group members:

Association of Research Libraries (ARL)

Esmé Cowles, Asst. Director for Library IT, Princeton University Library

Victoria Rose Raish, Online Learning Librarian, Penn State University

Seth Anderson, Software Preservation Program Manager, Yale University


Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL)

Lynn Benson, Researcher Services Manager, Hocken Collections, University of Otago Library

Kim Williams, Digital Curation Specialist, University of Sydney

Lisa O’Sullivan, Program Manager, Engagement and Outreach, University of Melbourne

Mala Scorse, Manager, Special Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia


Research Libraries UK (RLUK)

Liz Waller, Director of University Library and Collections and University Librarian, Durham University

Joanne Fitton, Head of Special Collections and Galleries, University of Leeds Libraries

Ian Johnson, Head of Special Collections & Archives, Newcastle University

Deirdre Wildy, Head of Special Collections & Archives, Queen’s University Belfast

John Hodgson, Associate Director (Curatorial Practices), The University of Manchester Library

Karen Robson, Head of Archives and Special Collections, University of Southampton


The National Archives, UK: Tina Morton, Head of Regional & Networks Team

The British Library, UK: Becca Mytton, Single Digital Presence Project Officer

Jisc: Paola Marchionni, Head of product (content and discovery), Jisc

OCLC, Research Library Partnership: Anne Blecksmith, Head, Reader Services, The Huntington Library


Working group secretariat support

RLUK Executive: Christina Kamposiori and Matt Greenhall