How to Visit the Libraries of the World without Leaving Home

By Balas, Janet L. | Computers in Libraries, November 2000 | Go to article overview

How to Visit the Libraries of the World without Leaving Home


Balas, Janet L., Computers in Libraries


Think globally about librarianship!

Articles about the Internet often contain a great deal of cliched, simplistic thinking. I've read numerous articles in which the writer gushes about how small the world has become and how the Internet has brought people together. Other writers, less enthusiastic about the subject, make the disparaging claim that the Internet is destroying the richness of culture since so much of online content is English-only. I don't think that either group of writers has it completely right, since both visions are so narrow.

The Internet has made it easier to communicate over long distances so people who might never have met each other can share common interests and concerns. I participate in numerous electronic mailing lists, some devoted to professional concerns and others purely personal. Many of these lists have participants from all over the world. Of course, sometimes language can create difficulties. Once one list member was offering advice to another and remarked that "the time removes many bandages." It took me a minute to realize that the writer was trying to use the phrase "time heals all wounds." Currently, language difficulties continue to be an impediment to communication. Yes, there are sites that offer translation services through computer programs, but if you've ever tried any of these sites, then you know they often come up with phrases even more unusual than "the time removes many bandages."

While the Internet does bring people with common concerns and interests together, it can also reveal a fascinating diversity of viewpoints, customs, and experiences. The Web is a good place to expand our views of our profession.

Visiting the Largest Libraries

One of the best ways to learn about another culture is to visit. For us, this would mean visiting libraries in foreign countries. An actual trip might not always be possible, but the collections of many libraries throughout the world are available online, so you can instead make a virtual visit.

When you're planning a trip, it helps to have some destinations in mind. If you want to start with the biggest first, the Library Spot can take you on a virtual tour of the world's largest libraries. Of course the U.S. Library of Congress is on the tour, as is the New York Public Library. I've paid many an online visit to these libraries, so I chose instead to visit The British Library, the U.K.'s national library. I had a fine time reading about the library, looking at its collections and exhibitions, and sampling a few of the files in the sound archive. I was especially interested in information about the library's Digital Library Programme [Editor's Note: See David Raitt's feature article on p. 26 for more information on this project.] so I could compare it to the Library of Congress' digitization projects.

After visiting The British Library, I decided to visit the Bibliotheque nationale de France. Unfortunately my high school French is very rusty, so I had to use the alternate page in English. Once again I browsed the collections and visited the virtual exhibitions. At the time of my visit, the online exhibitions included one--Creating French Culture--which had actually been prepared by the Library of Congress. After visiting the exhibitions, I read about the history of the Bibliotheque nationale, which dates its collection back to 1368, browsed its calendar of events, and learned about this library's digitization project entitled Gallica 2000. [Editor's Note: Seep. 28 in Raitt's feature for more information.] Even though I used the English-language page, I still encountered language problems since the digital library and collections contained, as you would expect, mostly French materials.

Libraries Online, Both Large and Small

In addition to the feature article on the largest libraries, the LibrarySpot also has a Libraries Online page. The Web Cats link allows visitors to look up libraries by geography, name, or type of library. …

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