Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Technology Wish List: I Want the Computer from Star Trek

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Technology Wish List: I Want the Computer from Star Trek

Article excerpt

Librarians always have wish lists. Directors make lists of possible building renovations and expansions, while acquisitions librarians list materials they would like to order when funds permit. Systems librarians, however, often have the longest wish lists since they want more and faster computers, larger and brighter displays, and all the latest whiz-bang technology. I have all those things on my technology wish list, but I also long for some things that don't yet exist. For instance, I would like to have the Star Trek transporter here in the Monroeville Public Library. We have two floors with a long, spread-out design, so running from one end to the other to deal with a recalcitrant computer can be a nuisance. I think it would be great to just beam myself wherever I am needed in the building. Think of the time it would save!

While I'm composing the list of technological marvels that I'd like to have in the library, I have to add the Star Trek computer. If you've ever watched an episode of any of the various Star Trek series or movies, you've seen the characters simply ask the computer aloud for any information they need and instantly get the answer. Obviously, all the knowledge in the galaxy has been digitized and stored in the computer. I realize that this is science fiction, but as libraries and other institutions continue to develop digital collections, we begin to see a glimmer of a librarian's dream future where all information, both historical and current, can be accessed from any location.

Digital Collections of Our Nation's Treasures

Whenever I think of digital collection projects, the first one that comes to mind is the American Memory project of the Library of Congress, subtitled Historical Collections for the National Digital Library. According to the home page, American Memory now has more than 7 million digital items of primary source material from more than 100 historical collections. Visitors can browse the individual collections or search across all of them. There are FAQ documents, viewing instructions, and for those of us in the profession who are interested in the behind-the-scenes work, there is technical information on the project. That includes documents on technical practices, work flow and production, rights and restrictions, and general background on digital collections. The page is updated regularly as the Library of Congress shares its findings on the best practices for developing and providing access to its digital collections.

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries is also involved in developing digital collections through its Galaxy of Knowledge Web site, which serves as a portal to the Smithsonian Libraries' resources. A featured collection at the time of my visit was Put a Smile On Your Face, an online exhibit of cartoons and caricatures. I chuckled through some of the cartoons and then moved on to explore the digital collection of historical trade literature on sewing machines. As I browsed, I realized just how large an undertaking it is to digitize whole collections. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries' collection of books on cartoons and caricatures currently numbers over 650 titles and is still growing. And that's just one collection!

Local Treasures Can Be Available to the World

Public libraries are often interested in both preserving and providing access to special collections of their local historical materials. The New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Library's Picture Collection, created in 1915, is a large circulating collection and reference archive covering over 12,000 subjects. Selected images, currently about 30,000, from this collection are now available to patrons outside the library through the Picture Collection Online. A federal Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant and a private donation funded the project, commonly referred to as PCO. The first installation of the collection went online in 2002. …

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