Use of the web to replace, supplement, or complement the library's print collection presents fundamental dilemmas and opportunities. This paper provides a framework for effective utilization of the web to provide information and resources that supplement the library's collection. Beginning with a brief discussion of the traditional values that characterize libraries, the focus turns to the delivery of information in the context of cyberspace.
A summary of the advantages and disadvantages of using web-based resources is followed by strategies for finding information on the web. The paper concludes with a discussion of the balancing act that librarians must perform in order to best integrate the web into existing resources.
One of the web's strongest assets is its ability to provide current and timely information. Sites with business data (currency exchange rates, stock market data), geo-political information, weather, and current news exploit the webs potential to provide information with an immediacy than is impossible in print. Examples of these sites include the Weather Net (http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/wxnet), which provides access to current conditions, forecasts, satellite images, and other weather-related information, and current news sites (such as http://www.yahoo.com/news) which provide newswire services, world headline news, and links to online daily newspapers. The volatility of this data and the time lag between gathering, publishing, and making it available on the library's shelves strongly mitigates against disseminating it in traditional print media.
The web's interactive capabilities provide functions not possible through standard print sources. An increasing number of sites have interactive features where calculations such as unit conversion (http://www.eardc.swt.edu/cgi-bin/ucon/ucon.pl), local times around the world (http://www.aus.net/times), and distance calculations (http://www.indo.com/distance) are performed automatically. Moreover, interactivity with librarians is increasingly possible, as numerous library reference departments now provide the opportunity for users to ask reference questions via the library's web site. One of the principle innovators of this service in the U.S., is the Internet Public Library (http://ipl.org), which provides an interactive information service at it's "Ask a Reference Question" page. Guidelines are provided and users submit question on online form or initiate an interactive reference session.
In the traditional library, print is the primary means by which information is acquired and disseminated. Separate media centers may provide audio and video recordings, but largely there is little integration of these media with the print collection. Web sites, like the new generation of CD-ROMs, provide for true integration of text, sound, and image, including video, for example, the web hosts dictionaries which include audio pronunciation guides, and sites which integrate music and dance clips into the text. Moreover, with its dynamic system of links, the web is able to draw related materials and information together far more seamlessly and effectively than is possible in print. As Stuart Weibel observes, "The opportunity to weave a publication into the context of related scholarship (by embedding explicit links to related articles) will enhance the usefulness of the literature to the scholar." (Weibel, 1995).
Unlike traditional library collections, which must be used in a specific place and time, the web offers greater flexibility regarding where and when its information can be accessed. While achieving this capability requires powerful and properly configured hardware, necessary software, and ability to connect to the network, the consequent availability in the classroom, lab, office, or home, offers unprecedented accessibility. Despite the instability of web sites and unpredictable access to servers, the web offers the advantage of simultaneous use by multiple users. Since library materials can only be used by one person at a time, and are subject to being lost or mutilated, web access to a heavily used resource can help ensure its availability to users.
Perhaps the most powerful feature of the web, however, is the wealth of information it contains, much of which is not available in even the largest library collections. If the intrepid librarian succeeds in wading through the morass of advertising, popular culture, and hype that accompanies using the web, he or she finds that useful sites actually do exist. Foremost among these are the home pages of libraries, universities and research centers, and professional organizations, which frequently contain value added resources. For instance, the U.S. Library of Congress site (http://www.loc.gov) includes historical photographs and audio recordings, specialized databases such as the Vietnam War Era POW/MIA Database, and exhibits, in addition to providing access (via telnet) to their online catalog.
Though commercial databases such as the full text of Encyclopedia Britannica are available through the web, their use is restricted to subscribers. Nevertheless, librarians can access a considerable amount of unrestricted (i.e., free) information, such as national and commercial telephone directories, dictionaries, almanacs, etc. Numerous libraries have organized links to these electronic reference sources (see http://www.ipl.org/ref/RR). In some cases, however, quality may be sacrificed for convenience as the some of these resources are not as authoritative or dependable as their print counterparts.
Journal literature is of particular interest to scholars, and delivery of current, authoritative articles to a desktop is a researcher's dream. Since this literature is subject to copyright restrictions, however, full text articles are generally available only on a subscription basis, frequently through a vendor such as OCLC's FirstSearch. Though an increasing number of electronic journals published on the net are freely available (see http://www.edoc.com/ejournal for a classified listing) they may not be subject to the peer review quality-control process. The availability of newspapers is somewhat better, since an increasingly diverse collection of newspapers from around the world is online (see http://www.yahoo.com/news/newspapers). While these are rarely the exact equivalent of the paper copy, they nonetheless provide vital information beyond the library's budget to acquire in print.
In summary, the web's potential for expanding a library's existing resources is considerable. Whether providing timely information such as international news, interactive information services, multimedia, or connections to remote libraries, the dynamic nature of the web offers a rich complement to the static and stable print collection.
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