On the Cutting Edge

Article excerpt

On the Cutting Edge

"Access": New Initiatives

There are countless books, articles, and presentations yet to be written and given on the topic of access. The librarian's concept of access includes:

* access to a particular library

* access to a particular library collection

* access to a particular book, periodical, film, etc.

* access to online databases

* access by handicapped patrons to library

buildings

* access via interlibrary loan to distant information

sources

* access by students to library catalogs and

data-bases from their dormitories

* access to materials in foreign countries

The list could go and on and on.

This column takes a look at current access "issues" including librarian initiatives to incorporate access to external databases into local online catalogs; OCLC's new subject access EPIC service; and the OCLC Users Council's initiatives to expand access to monographs.

Local Access to Databases

Margaret Guss, University of Akron, offered a state-of-the-art evaluation of the several trends and issues related to library online catalogs at the Computers in Libraries '90 conference last month. Basing her report in part on user input studies, Guss pointed to the need for libraries to incorporate several new databases, developed both internally and externally, into local holdings catalogs. Possibilities included journal and newspaper article literature; books at the chapter level; and other information resources, such as encyclopedias.

There are, of course, other ways libraries can extend access, such as expanding services beyond library walls (e.g., SDI and document delivery), as well as promoting an "increasing reliance upon journal information in collection building."

A number of experiments already have been undertaken with the express purpose of permitting user access to information resources from a variety of locations (besides libraries and including homes and offices) in order to improve personal productivity.

Libraries that have been involved in at least some part of these experiments in the early stages include the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie-Mellon University, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, Arizona State, Southern California, and the California Institute of Technology. Common characteristics of the experiments these libraries have undertaken include:

* targeting general interest and high-use databases

* limited access to the systems

* frequent involvement of campus computing centers

* incorporation of online help in the user interface

* high costs for both hardware and software

According to Guss, these experiments also include several differences:

* selection of either an entire database or merely a

subset of one

* searching provided either via menu or command-level

software which, in turn, may vary widely in

the level of online helps

* software for enhanced database access may be the

same, similar to, or different from software used in

the library's OPAC

* inclusion of local databases

More and Better: Levels of Success

No matter what the similarities and differences may be, librarians involved in the early projects have reported great success as reflected in positive patron feedback. Increased collection and system usage is another verifiable bottom line of success. As with all new library services, it is no surprise that users, delighted by the new access systems, quickly demand more, and more, and more.

Guss suggests four aspects to examine if you intend to expand local online catalogs:

"1. your vision of the system, as this will influence

(at least) database selection

2. …