Evaluation and Support of Internet Software
Watson, Mark, Callahan, Daren, Information Technology and Libraries
The Internet has introduced dramatic changes to the nature of library and information services. As network use increases, libraries must determine which Internet software to obtain for computers in order to explore and utilize the network, and they must also generate interest in its use. A recent program for Internet software evaluation at Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, offers a practical solution. Training was initially concentrated on a core group of volunteer staff members who effectively evaluated Internet software and subsequently assisted colleagues in navigating the Internet. Information about availability and selection of Internet freeware and shareware is included.
* Evaluation and Support of Internet Software
"The Internet has become the technological trend in academic libraries of the 1990s, as was the microcomputer during the 1980s and the library automation project of the late 1970s."(1) The rapid growth of the Internet has an unpredictable momentum of its own, but there can be little doubt that the network is moving us closer daily to the notion of an electronic library. The resources now available on the Internet are added to other, more traditional print research tools and, as the public increasingly comes to regard these resources as indispensable, they will also expect library staff members to assist them and be efficient guides through the avalanche of new material. Of course, libraries hoping to capitalize on the important offerings of the electronic environment must find an effective method of sorting, filtering, and evaluating the explosion of information.(2)
As the Internet becomes increasingly useful to librarians, both for doing their own research and for providing information for patrons, several questions arise. One is how libraries decide what Internet software to acquire for staff and for patrons. Another question is how to help library staff to overcome the intimidation factor that naturally looms over the Internet for beginners, enabling them in turn to assist patrons.
The market for software designed for the exploration and exploitation of the Internet, such as gopher, TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, the software that controls communication between computers), and newsreader software, is not yet dominated by the large commercial companies. Instead, many programs, such as Mosaic, are being created by educational institutions, such as the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), or by individuals writing freeware and shareware in programming languages like Visual Basic. Freeware and shareware are available to anyone on the Internet through anonymous FTP (file-transfer protocol). Small commercial firms have been marketing useful Internet products for some time. Recently, the giant software companies have also entered this arena. Before long they will doubtless gain the major share of this market, especially since Microsoft has built TCP/IP (necessary for connecting a personal computer to the Internet) into the new version of its Windows operating system, known as Windows 95. Libraries wishing to make Internet software available to staff and patrons are faced with the problem-or opportunity, depending upon one's viewpoint-of evaluating and determining which shareware programs to acquire. In addition, they are faced with the challenge of generating interest among the library staff in learning and using new Internet software such as Netscape, which uses both text and graphic images and has great potential for library applications. Netscape and Mosaic are programs designed for browsing the World Wide Web, a facet of the Internet that supports multimedia applications.
No matter how strongly one stresses the user-friendliness of a particular program, the average user often does not believe it. For the most part, average users on the library staff are reluctant to try a new program until they see others of comparable experience and ability employing the program with apparent ease. …