Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Expanding the Online Catalog

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Expanding the Online Catalog

Article excerpt

At one time, a library's catalog was designed to index every intellectual work in the collection--not just books, but also articles in periodicals held by the library, pamphlets, maps, government publications, the whole range of materials acquired by a library.(1) By 1900 all but a few highly specialized libraries found this was an impossible task, and today most catalogs provide access only to the books and the set titles of serials. Readers interested in the other types of materials are compelled to consult indexes that are separate from the catalog such as printed indexes, CD-ROM databases, or commercial online services. While these tools are usually of high quality, they are scattered throughout a library. The reader has lost the unifying function of the catalog, the ability to locate any item from a single source.

Tyckoson estimates that most library catalogs, be they on cards or online, index only 2 percent of the works in a collection.(2) The remaining 98 percent of the works include journal articles, government publications, individual essays in collections, maps, pamphlets, etc. Many libraries have specialized collections with their own catalog or index distinct from the main catalog.

Technology offers a possible solution to return libraries to the ideal of yesterday by providing access to a greater variety of material through the online catalog. Some libraries have loaded indexes to journal articles along with their main catalog. Others have loaded indexes to specialized collections and to government publications.

Beyond a library's local collection lies a wealth of information held by other libraries or collected by affiliated academic and government departments. While this information may be of tremendous value to readers, access to it is difficult and murky at best. Again, online catalogs have been used to improve this situation.

The articles that follow in this issue of Information Technology and Libraries describe the experiences of several libraries who have used technology to provide greater access to the materials available in their collections and, in some cases, to information outside their libraries. In most cases, the work described here has been performed in conjunction with an online catalog so that the reader is provided with a single source, a common interface, a unified environment in which to retrieve information.

These articles represent the experience of the following institutions: the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, the University of Pennsylvania, the California Institute of Technology, Arizona State University, and the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries (CARL). Figure 1 provides an overview of the various databases available at these institutions. There is also a general essay by Charles Bailey that suggests some future directions. It should be stressed that this set of articles is not meant to be exhaustive. There are other libraries and organizations working in this area, including the Division of Library Automation of the University of California, Clemson University, the University of Delaware, the University of Southern California, and Lehigh, among others.

The purpose of this essay is to identify some of the major trends or themes reflected by the articles that follow. There are three trends that will be discussed: the unification of local collections, providing access to outside resources, and the incorporation of reference works and full text.


There is a wealth of material in all libraries that is more difficult to find than the books that are usually reflected in catalogs--journal articles, technical reports, essays in collections, songs in collections, government publications, etc. Somewhere in most libraries there are specialized indexes that provide access to this other material, but barriers of cost and effort stand between them and most readers. …

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