Magazine article American Libraries

Where the Information Superhighway Meets the Back Roads

Magazine article American Libraries

Where the Information Superhighway Meets the Back Roads

Article excerpt


The patron came to the Cedar City Public Library seeking information on so-called "secret shoppers." The term refers to people who are hired by companies to visit their stores and investigate whether the service is good and whether they are following company policies, the patron explained to Library Director Afton Lefevre, who was working the reference desk at the time.

"The patron was retired, liked to travel, and wanted to make a little extra money," Lefevre recalled. "He had heard that many companies were looking for people to work as secret shoppers, but he didn't know how to get in touch with them."

Instead of using the usual printed and CD-ROM reference sources, Lefevre headed for a computer terminal connected to the Internet, called up the InfoSeek search engine, and typed in the term "secret shopper." Presto - the patron was connected to the information superhighway.

"Not only did he find an association for secret shoppers, he was also able to fill out and send an application form he found on the Internet," Lefevre revealed. "He was completely satisfied and so were we. We probably could have found the information by using the traditional reference sources, but I know it would have taken us much longer."

This example of how the library in the small Utah town of Cedar City (population 20,000) used the Internet to help a patron is just one of many that graphically shows the impact the evolving information superhighway is having on the way the state's libraries now provide service. Thanks to the Utah Library Network - an ambitious and well-planned effort on the part of state and local government, libraries, educational institutions, corporations, and volunteers - it's now as easy for residents from rural Utah communities to get access to library resources as it is for people living in Salt Lake City, Utah's biggest metropolis, or New York City, Los Angeles, or, for that matter, London, England.

Louis Reinwand, network services manager at the Utah State Library, said that Utah has shown "real vision" in how it has applied the Internet to the state's library system. "Our leaders see the Internet as a positive thing - a tool that can break down the information isolation that has been a barrier to the development of rural libraries in the state," he explained.

Susan Hill, director of the Brigham City Library, which serves a population of some 45,000, said it had been her experience that the Internet contains a lot of "junk"; at times she has found it difficult to locate information on a specific topic. But she quickly added that the Internet has a lot of valuable information that can serve the needs of Utah residents, no matter where they live. "You can find a speech of Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich almost immediately after they gave it, as well a lot of current information on what's happening with government at the national, state, and local levels. That type of information is not found in the printed and CD-ROM reference sources. And now the state library has a lot of good links, which they keep up to date, and that has helped us [public] libraries a lot."

Last year the Logan Public Library began handling frequent requests for copies of bills that were being debated during the state legislative session. "By providing easier access to government resources and services via the Internet, Utah libraries are encouraging better citizenship," said Director Ronald Jenkins.

Thanks to the network, Utah's rural libraries have used electronic mail via the Internet to make interlibrary loan requests more quickly and efficiently; and they now have access to such databases and services as UMI, which can access as many as 1,000 periodicals, 400 of which contain full-text articles. "We would never be able to buy them, but we bought a fax machine and are now able to request an article via the Internet and get it within 20 minutes," Lefevre explained. …

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