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Skype Audio and Video for Collaboration and Distance Education: Save Money and Time!

If you would like to communicate with colleagues and patrons remotely without racking up long distance telephone bills or traveling to another city, take a look at Skype (http://www.skype.com). Skype is a free Voice over IP (VoIP) program that also has a videoconferencing feature. The program is freely downloadable; installation is straightforward (see http://www.skype.com/help/guides/howtoskype/ for a simple “Getting Started” guide).

To use the video features of Skype, you will need a low-cost webcam and a headset with microphone. The LogiTech Pro 5000 retails for $80 (see the LogiTech website at http://www.logitech.com for more options and information). For recommended headsets, click on the “Shop” button at the Skype site; costs range from $20 to $50 for a good quality headset. If you plan to use Skype with a group in a conference room setting, the $129 Polycom Communicator echo cancellation microphone is a good investment (see http://www.polycom.com/usa/en/products/voice/mobile/communicator_c100s.html).

Skype currently lets you conduct audio conferences with up to nine people and video conferences with up to two people (one-to-one videoconferencing). Skype includes an instant messaging chat program. Additional Skype features include:

  • Screen sharing: Unyte (http://www.unyte.net/) is a Skype plug-in that allows you to share documents on your computer screen with other participants. The program is free for one-to-one calls and has a fee structure for more than two participants.
  • Skypecasts: public audio conferences with up to 100 people (https://skypecasts.skype.com/skypecasts/home).
  • Calls to landlines in the U.S. and Canada: Skype’s “SkypeOut” service lets you use Skype to call regular landline phones. Skype offers a $29.95 per year unlimited service. This is useful if the people you will be calling do not have Skype installed on their computer. Calls from or to other countries are also available for per-minute rates (usually a few cents per minute).
  • Skype Mobile: Download Skype onto your PDA or smartphone.

What are the possibilities for collaboration, communication, and distance education in a library setting? A few ideas include:

  • Hold one-to-one interactive meetings using Skype audio and videoconferencing with colleagues around the country
  • Conduct audio conferences with up to 9 participants, using a mix of Skype and SkypeOut for those who do not have Skype installed
  • Offer a Skypecast discussion for colleagues
  • Offer or participate in distance education using Skype and Unyte screen sharing
  • Use Skype as your “presence” for communicating with colleagues remotely; they will know when you are online and are available for a chat or Skype call

Skype uses peer-to-peer technology and will work with some, but not all, firewalls. For more details, visit the Skype security resource center at http://www.skype.com/security/. If you are unable to install Skype at your institution, ask your network administrators to read the “Skype Guide for Network Administrators” located at http://www.skype.com/security/guide-for-network-admins-30beta.pdf.

Give it a try! If you have questions or other ideas you would like to try using this technology, please contact Sharon Dennis, PSR Technology Coordinator, at sdennis@library.ucla.edu, 800.338.7657, then press 5 for the staff directory, and then press 7 for Sharon Dennis.

Editor’s Note: Staff in your Regional Network Office are currently using Skype to communicate with their counterparts in other Regional Medical Libraries. Feel free to contact any of us using Skype!

One caveat: If you use Outlook, Skype may include all of your contacts in your Skype contact lists! You can change this when in Skype by going to ‘View’ and then unchecking ‘View Outlook Contacts’.

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