Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Local Area Networks and Wide Area Networks for Libraries

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Local Area Networks and Wide Area Networks for Libraries

Article excerpt


Almost everyone agrees that the pervasiveness of computer systems has had a profound effect on our society. Large- and small-scale changes arrive at an increasingly rapid rate, rendering old systems and tools obsolete and this pace of change is accelerating. With today's personal computer or PC one can have the resources of a typewriter, memo pad, slide projector, dictionary, thesaurus, and other essential accessories at one's fingertips.

Technologies that used to last for years are rapidly being replaced by new ones. Only a few years ago, widely available cheap, high quality fax machines had a significant impact on the way people do business. Today, the availability of fax modems gives almost any computer user the same capabilities as a standalone fax, yet at only a fraction of the cost. Moreover, the fax modem can eliminate the need to make paper copies of a document to feed into a fax machine.

As microcomputer sales begin to exceed those of color televisions in the United States, the wide availability of PC systems will create increased demand for better and more user-friendly software, as well as enhanced ability to interconnect standalone systems. If the seventies and eighties are thought of as the PC years, then the nineties and beyond may become known as the Network years.

The availability of fast, powerful, microprocessors has made it possible to provide more user-friendly interfaces like Microsoft Windows. These "point and shoot" interfaces have made it easier to use computer systems. More than 90% of all of the PCs purchased in the last three years have Windows installed at the time the box is opened.

More powerful systems also enable the user to leave the confines of "text-based" information and move into a multimedia environment, including text, graphics, sound, and video. Such systems allow the computer user to access networks and share applications, information, graphics, sound, video, and other forms of digital information.

Computer users, including libraries, increasingly rely on Local Area Networks, or LANs, and Wide Area Networks, or WANs, to facilitate both internal and external communications and resource sharing. At the beginning of 1995, it was estimated that there were between 3.5 and 5 million networks installed worldwide (Tittel and Connor 1995). These networks average 8 to 12 users, 2 servers, and 2 printers. Often, the next logical step after establishing a LAN is to link a series of LANs into a Wide Area Network, or WAN. Of the 2 million LANs not currently internetworked, it is estimated that 40% will be by 1997, according to the International Data Corporation of Framingham, Mass. (Sullivan 1994). According to another study, more than 20 million personal computer users were networked by the end of 1991, with this number expected to top 100 million by the year 2000 (Carroll 1993).

The broad acceptance of networking technologies, coupled with relatively low costs and the need to distribute large amounts of data and information, requires that libraries become more network literate. In some cases the availability of networking infrastructure has been outside the control of the library. However, as new technologies appear, such as desktop graphics, audio and video resources, videoteleconferencing, Internet and client-server systems, libraries must develop their own understanding of network technologies and networking issues.

It is the purpose of this report to explain LANs, WANs, and other emerging technologies so that librarians can become informed participants in the planning process. Regular readers of Library Technology Reports will recall that there have been two reports pertaining to local area networks (Saffady 1990; Boss 1992). Readers may want to review Saffady's report for a thorough review of the history of LANs and LANs in the library environment.

In addition to considering these new technologies for data communication requirements, a library should contemplate options for the integration of other services, like voice, video, fax, and digital reference resources (both online and on CD-ROM). …

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