Magazine article American Libraries

Notes from a Forty-Percenter

Magazine article American Libraries

Notes from a Forty-Percenter

Article excerpt

According to the 1997 Survey of Public Libraries and the Internet, the good news is that over 70% of public libraries in the United States were connected to the Internet one way or another. (Understand that "connectivity" is an all-encompassing phrase that could mean anything from a dumb-terminal dial-up over a 14.4 mode or suites of Pentiums on a T1 line.) The bad news is that 40% of public libraries did not offer public access to the Internet.

In 1926, ALA's Committee on Library Extension observed, "The problem . . . is primarily rural, for 93% of the people without public library service live in the open country or in villages of less than 2,500 population." In the online age the problem remains the same. Libraries that are unconnected or underconnected to the Internet are disproportionately rural and small; their obstacles are huge. Often we are talking about automating from the ground up, sometimes in a library that has only recently acquired other basic tools such as telephone or fax service. The funding, equipping, and training issues can be staggering. Very few libraries can connect without tremendous external support, such as a consortium that provides connectivity and basic network support services.

I know about this firsthand; I've just started working in a small, rural public library. We expect to go online early next year, and our ability to do this is made possible through our membership in a consortium, the Upper Hudson Library System. Like many pre-Internet libraries, we aren't entirely unconnected or without automation; we have one older machine we use to dial into our consortium system computer, where we check in-house e-mail and the holdings in the system catalog, and another computer for games and job skills. Nevertheless, I feel marooned on a desert island, particularly since I know what I'm missing. Is that a Web site I see before me? Alas - my parched brain hallucinates; it's only a mirage!

In theory, the focus of our big date is the availability of the online catalog, and I can't say we will miss the card catalog or that painfully loud cardcharging machine, which one staff member vowed should sleep with the fishes as soon as our holdings are linked. (Don't you love people who fantasize about the mythical glory days before computers, when libraries were quiet havens? Let them stamp 50 date cards in a row or word-process a sheaf of catalog cards.)

In reality, the big deal is the Internet - not the backbone over which our catalog records will travel, but that tumultuous, disorganized trash barge of human information (and smooth toll road for fee-based magazine and reference databases). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.