Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Internet

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Internet

Article excerpt

The Internet

Welcome to the wide world of electronic networking. This is a new column designed to help librarians use the Internet, a vast and sometimes mysterious world of over 2,760 networks and more than half a million computers.

The aim is to provide a useful guide to the resources on the Internet for new users. The focus will be functional, nontechnical aspects of Internet access.

The Internet is a correction of computer networks, mainly in North America but extending worldwide to at least thirty countries, all using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol TCP/ IP). While you do not have to know how TCP/IP works, or even what it is, it is the foundation on which the Internet is built. Basically, it is software that enables dissimilar computers, from massive EBM mainframes and supercomputers to workstations and small personal computers, to communicate with each other.

If your computer is on the Internet you can access a remote computer (or several at once) as if you were directly connected to it. You can run programs, copy files, and perform other functions as if you were actually seated in front of the remote machine.

Once you are on the Internet you can chat with colleagues, subscribe to electronic journals such as the Journal of Distance Education, search databases such as the Catalog of Projects in Electronic Text at Georgetown University, read news reports on everything from Desert Storm to pets, and even check for earthquake warnings - all from your terminal or microcomputer.


The Internet is hierarchically organized. Local traffic is kept local and internetwork traffic is routed through gateways, similar to local roads and interstate highways. NSFnet (National Science Foundation), which is funded mostly by government grants, provides the major highspeed links between the various regional and local networks. The regional networks then connect to local sites. Each site may have its own networks of hundreds or even thousands of computers.

NSFnet was originally set up to connect supercomputer centers, but with the explosive growth of the Internet, there now plans to Set Up a National Research and Education Network (NREN) that will assume a larger role, including the connection of national laboratories, public schools (such as the K-12 network), and public libraries to the Internet.

Networks that do not use the TCP/IP protocols cannot offer direct connection between computers, but they can use e-mail as the medium to transfer information. While this prevents them from having interactive access to databases, archives, or library OPACS, batch access is possible through e-mail. This includes networks such as BNNET and UUCP, which have e-mail gateways to the Internet.

It is conservatively estimated that between one and five million users are on the Internet, making the global village a reality. Internet regulars routinely "talk" with colleagues in Finland, Hawaii, Australia, or the next state, and connect to computers aU over North America and half way around the world.

What Can It Do for You?

Members of any profession must keep up with developments in their area. This usually entails reading the literature, attending conferences and workshops, and making contacts.

Librarians in isolated areas, those who do not get a chance to read much of the professional literature, or those in organizations with small conference and travel budgets may find it difficult to keep up with changes in the library world. Without leaving your library you can use your terminal or personal computer to talk with colleagues, read journals, search databases, access other libraries' OPACS, download software, scan the help wanted ads for a better job, and even check the weather. The expertise of thousands of specialists is right at your fingertips.

Access to large OPACs such as University of California's MELVYL catalog, which has records for about ten million holdings, can help with bibliographic and collection development functions. …

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