Corporate Libraries of the '90S Go On-Line

Article excerpt

DO penguins have fur or feathers?

This is one of the more unusual of the 12,000 reference questions Apple Computer corporate librarian Monica Ertel and her staff answered this year.

"We are asked anything from annual sales of competitors to names of state capitals," says Ms. Ertel, explaining that the penguin question came from a computer graphics designer - and yes, they do have feathers.

The library, based at company headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., has a staff of 10 professional librarians, who work with a collection of 10,000 books, 700 periodicals, and 15 on-line database services. Once they have an answer, they deliver the information using state-of-the-art telecommunications systems that are rapidly edging out the yellow inter-office envelope.

"The last time I counted, we had 13 different ways to deliver information to users - most of them electronic," Ertel says. These include the company communications system called Applelink, and others such as Microsoft mail and Internet.

Corporate libraries, known today as information centers, are responding in minutes to reference questions that once took hours. The evolution of library services began in the late 1970s when on-line databases were introduced, with research printed out on smudgy thermal paper. In the 1980s, as database use became mainstream, the emphasis switched to faster methods of document delivery.

Software packages called "groupware," which enable users in many parts of a company to share library research, are the latest addition. As more information is disseminated electronically, "virtual libraries," or libraries without books, may become the norm in decades to come.

The high cost of updating services, however, has held some corporate libraries back. While Apple's library grew with the company, top management at many other firms hit by the recession cut library budgets. Even Bankers Trust, which librarians often cite as having one of the most technologically advanced research facilities in the country, closed its lower Manhattan library in March 1991, transferring two of the three staff members to a central library in its midtown office.

Even so, in today's highly competitive global business environment, information management is becoming more valued, says James Matarazzo of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. …