Advancing Your Library through High Technology: He Who Hesitates Is Lost; or Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread

By Roderick, Elizabeth; Kneebone, John | Information Technology and Libraries, March 1996 | Go to article overview
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Advancing Your Library through High Technology: He Who Hesitates Is Lost; or Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread


Roderick, Elizabeth, Kneebone, John, Information Technology and Libraries


The Library of Virginia has initiated several digitization projects that will soon provide new, more modern ways to find research materials in the library's extensive collections. The new finding aids and databases of images use technologies in digital imaging and document preservation, resulting in more efficient and more extensive access to library materials than of fragile available, as well as the protection of fragile and aging materials. From our experience with these projects, the authors believe that the new technologies present both challenges and opportunities for library professionals and, more important, will enable traditional professional and archives to continue traditional professional activities in new guises. The essay below summarizes the transcript of our original extemporaneous presentation.

The Library of Virginia (LVA), located in Richmond and founded in 1823, serves as the repository for state and local government records, and as the reference library at the seat of government. We are a major research library, with comprehensive collections of materials on Virginia's history and culture, and with a long-standing historical publications program featuring our popular quarterly magazine, Virginia Cavalcade, now in its forty-fifth volume. We provide services to other Virginia libraries--the LVA initiated the Virginia Library and Information Network (VLIN) in 1993, which provides Internet access and electronic communications to more than twenty-five hundred Virginia librarians at more than five hundred library sites.

The patrons who visit our public reading rooms, and the ever-increasing numbers of patrons who access our collections from a distance, are primarily interested in genealogical and historical research, but their skills, training, and experience in research vary as widely as their needs. The phrase "customer service" has become something of a managerial buzzword lately, but at the Library of Virginia customer service is taken seriously.

In May 1995, the authors and the library were presented with a unique challenge and incredible opportunities. The LVA made a decision to discontinue development of a major initiative for which a significant amount of federal grant funds had been earmarked, funds which had to be expended prior to September 30, 1995. VTLS Inc. (VTLS) was under contract to complete the original project. The challenge was to identify and develop viable electronic information products from the library's collections that would benefit our primary constituencies, other Virginia libraries, and researchers around the world. The opportunities came in the form of the existing contract with VTLS, and the staff's realization that finding aids to provide better access to collections might finally come to fruition.

Key members of VTLS staff spent many hours working with LVA staff to explore the library's numerous and diverse resources and to identify viable electronic projects. Many LVA staff members enthusiastically recommended collections and finding aids for inclusion.

Selection criteria were as follows: (a) the project's implementation must be straightforward, with few or no obvious or inherent complications or idiosyncrasies; (b) the tasks required for project completion must be achievable and billable within four months; (c) the project would require no additional LVA staff; (d) the materials selected for digitization were in the public domain and/or did not violate intellectual property or copyright policies; (e) the project must make a collection or finding aid more accessible to the public; (f) the final product must be made available over the Internet, and will not require any additional proprietary software other than standard web browsers and viewers; and (g) the project should be a model for similar or expanded implementations.

One of the first issues we addressed was the need to preserve and expand access to the information contained in over one thousand card catalog drawers comprising thirty-eight different finding aids, primarily to our archival collections.

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