Automating Access to Internet Resources at the Reference Desk

Article excerpt

DROP THE ANCHOR, TROUBLED WATERS AHEAD!

The Internet is often described as a vast ocean of information resources. Although many of the resources are valuable, the Net's size makes it difficult to identify and use them. Frustrations result from rigid logon procedures and the necessity of extensive site location knowledge. Internet navigation and information retrieval is time-consuming and difficult, especially at the library reference desk. These factors produce an obvious dilemma. If reference desk use of Internet resources is to be effective, the need to remember obscure logon procedures and resource locations must be avoided. This process must also be compatible with existing reference desk work flow.

Despite these difficulties, the reference staff at Saginaw Valley realized that many Net resources could be used at the reference desk and we believed a solution to the dilemma was worth the effort. We decided that automating access through a "one key equals one resource" menu would be the best way to resolve the problem. A menu could eliminate remembering resource locations and logon procedures, and allow librarians to conduct multidimensional reference service.

Executing the actual solution proved simple. Our menu uses DOS batch files and a WordPerfect shell menu. The BAT files open recorded PROCOMM Plus logon scripts that automate each resource's logon procedure. This article describes the menu method and resources currently used by the reference staff at Saginaw Valley State University's Zahnow Library.

IDENTIFYING USEFUL RESOURCES

Before implementing our menu solution, we needed to choose the Internet resources to include. The reference staff decided to include Net resources that had already been used to answer questions, such as OPACs, census material, Michigan County Profiles and other resources accessed in the past.

We also decided to include resources that could help librarians verify interloan citations, help with collection development and scan professional publications. These included ERIC, CARL's UNCOVER and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Selections were divided into four menu categories for easy access and organization-Online Catalogs, Online Databases, Net Access and Miscellaneous Resources (Figure 1).(Figure 1 omitted)

SELECTING ONLINE CATALOGS

The menu resources provided under the Online Catalogs heading serve specific information needs. Saginaw Valley State University is located in central Michigan. It is within approximately 100 miles of each of the four university OPACs listed in the menu. These resources provide information about items at these institutions to help Saginaw Valley users with varying needs. For instance, some users are part-time students at nearby Central Michigan University (cmu-ibm at MichNet's which host? prompt) and commute from the Saginaw area. They often spend weekends doing research in our library. The Detroit Area & Wayne State University entry (wsunet at which host?) also serves a specific need. Wayne State University offers extension courses for its Library Studies program at Saginaw Valley and other area locations. Students like to check the availability of items at Wayne State while doing course work at Saginaw Valley.

Two additional university OPACs were also selected based on past reference desk inquiries. Many users are willing to make the sixty-mile trip to Michigan State University (magic at the which host? prompt) to continue research or locate a particular item, but would prefer to know first whether the trip will be worthwhile. This is also the case when users inquire about items at the University of Michigan (mirlyn at which host?). Remote access to these catalogs provide information about collections in over thirty campus-wide subject libraries and helps users decide whether a trip to these locations would be beneficial.

The final two OPAC selections provide information in a much broader context. …