Libraries Are In The Middle Of A Virtual Information Revolution
GAINESVILLE — Got information?
For that report, thesis or presentation due tomorrow, you have two choices: Drive to the library and plow through stacks of books and journals — assuming the library is open — or hop on the Internet and access much of the information electronically.
A growing trend among major research libraries, including the University of Florida’s George A. Smathers Libraries, is to deliver as much information as possible over the World Wide Web. Such systems provide 24-hour-a-day access to the libraries’ complete catalog, including numerous journals and databases containing full-text articles on just about any subject.
Since electronic versions of journals and indexes include search engines programs that find information the electronic journal is more versatile than its paper equivalent. This convenience is beginning to cause electronic versions to replace paper documents, said Carol Drum, chairwoman of UF’s Marston Science Library.
“We’ve already seen whenever we move to electronic indexes that the use of our paper indexes goes down,” Drum said. “We don’t reshelve them as often.”
Sam Gowan, associate director for collections management for the UF library system, said research libraries across the nation are in the middle of a virtual information revolution.
“The emergence of electronic information is probably the single most important issue facing research libraries today,” Gowan said. “It’s amazing how extremely rapid the changes have been coming over the past couple of years.”
Gowan said that even university researchers are not immune to the increasing demands on time that seem to be part of modern life.
“Researchers rarely have the time for a trip to the library to go looking for material among the shelves of books,” Gowan said. “The demand is for a rapid turnaround time and delivery of information to the desktop.”
But while the ability to research a topic from home or any computer may be convenient for the researcher, it doesn’t save libraries any money. Electronic versions of popular journals and other research material have more powerful search options and can be widely available, but they aren’t necessarily less expensive.
“Obviously the CD-ROM itself is a lot cheaper, but the cost of these products is what goes into developing the information in them,” Drum said. “That costs the same whatever format you are in. The plus is ease of use for the user.”
Drum said librarians around the country soon will have to start making hard decisions regarding which journals to keep in paper form and which ones to keep only in the electronic version.
“We’re already at the point of looking at canceling some major indexes that we have had in paper versions for years,” Drum said. “We’re looking at canceling the hard copy in favor of the electronic because we’ve had the electronic up long enough to know that people are using it.”
Drum said libraries are struggling to give patrons the research material they need even as the costs for those materials continue to rise.
“In the last five or 10 years, universities have had to cut way back because they just don’t have enough money to stretch over all the materials that they are taking,” Drum said. “There are other things besides the subscription to a journal that costs us money, especially as we go into the electronic era.”
Caroline Long, president of the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association, said that while the importance of electronic versions of material is growing, she doesn’t see print material being abandoned any time soon.
“Certainly the direction we’re going in is not toward the replacement of print materials,” Long said, but added, “There is a lot more available electronically, a wonderful wealth of materials. That’s a very convenient way for users to get to it any time of night or day. People are going to use information under a different paradigm.”
- Ed Hunter