Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Delivering Access to Library Materials and Services: Our Recipe for Success

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Delivering Access to Library Materials and Services: Our Recipe for Success

Article excerpt

In the early 1990s, Northern Michigan University started distributing laptop computers to its faculty and students. Soon, a taste for technology developed and the university community craved more. Having tempted their taste buds, we quickly found that patrons were no longer satisfied with traveling to the library and asked that we bring services and materials to them. Being very service-oriented, we started a small "take-out" operation that bloomed into a full-fledged catering business. As the head of technical services and systems at our 4-year undergraduate institution of higher learning, I was given the task of preparing this additional service. Fortunately I had a very talented, albeit small, staff to work with. To serve this community, what we needed was a good, basic recipe for all occasions that could be modified as desired.

Our recipe for Basic Vanilla Version for Library Materials Access follows.


* A Web-based online catalog

* MARC records with holdings

* Active network addresses or URLs

* A Web-based interlibrary loan form

* Online databases, some full-text

* Authentication software

Start with a well-organized and relatively clean Web-based online catalog (for us, that's Endeavor's Voyager). Add to this MARC records for online databases and online journals. Make sure holdings for the subscriptions to the online journals are accurate and up-to-date; this will take constant attention. The records should also contain working links to the full text of the journal (if you have an electronic subscription to the journal) or a link to the database that holds the online journal. Add easy access to a Web-based interlibrary loan form so that patrons can cut and paste information from the citation database to a request form in order to request the articles they locate. This will provide a path for those patrons who start with a known journal.

However, many people start by searching a database, so you also need to create a Web page that lists the citation/abstract databases and full-text databases that are available to your patrons. Be sure to indicate on the Web page what kind of database it is and what kind of information the person searching will find in each one. Providing this kind of information reduces patron frustration. From within the database (whenever possible), create a link to your library catalog, especially from citation-only databases. This will allow patrons to go from the citation to the catalog to see if the library holds the specific issue of a particular journal. If the database is full text, they should be able to link directly to the full text of the article. But will it let them? This is when you need to add the special ingredient of authentication.

The Secret Ingredient

If authentication processes are in place, then you can control access to databases to a particular population and at the same time let that access be unlimited geographically. Note: You must make sure your license agreements to the database allow you to do this. Usually they will if you can restrict access using authentication. You can authenticate using ID and password or using IP addresses. At first we used a combination based on what the database vendor would allow. If the database had to be accessed through an ID and password, we had to find a relatively easy yet secure way to get this information to our patrons. Thankfully, I am blessed with two five-star programmers. Through their efforts a password kiosk was created. Since Northern Michigan University assigns all students one official electronic ID and password combination, authentication was placed in front of the Web-based kiosk. The authentication would ask for the patron's university ID and password. If the patron entered a valid ID and password, then entrance into the kiosk was granted. The kiosk listed each database along with the required ID and password. …

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