PLCMC-A Very Public Library: This Institution's Online Presence Is a Great Role Model for Others to Follow. (Internet Insights)

By Jacso, Peter | Information Today, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

PLCMC-A Very Public Library: This Institution's Online Presence Is a Great Role Model for Others to Follow. (Internet Insights)


Jacso, Peter, Information Today


Recently, I visited the Web site of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (PLCMC; http://www.plcmc.org) in Charlotte, North Carolina, and found an offer that I couldn't resist: the databases that are available for PLCMC's card-carrying members. For $25 a year anyone can access these databases from the convenience of his or her home, or from any Internet-enabled hotel rooms while on the road.

Good Old Days

One of the two information services that impressed me most on my first cross-country visit to the U.S. in the mid-1970s was the public library system. (The other was the U.S. airlines' 24-hour toll-free service, which included instant fare and schedule information. Tellingly, these services were not offered by the non-U.S. airlines with offices here.) Beyond the pleasures of using the many well-designed, well-stocked, and well-staffed public libraries that I visited, I was thrilled to get local transportation information, directional information, and free brochures about the neighborhood I was in. [was delighted by the behind-the-scenes network that made interlibrary loan a swift operation even in small public libraries.

In every regard, U.S. public libraries have always been light years ahead of their counterparts in many of the European and Asian countries that I've visited. You probably take it for granted that wherever you are in the U.S., chances are good there's a public library within a 50-mile radius that will accept you as a member--for free or for a small fee, regardless of your permanent residence--so that you can enjoy the same privileges as the local patrons.

I encourage my friends who visit Hawaii to get a library card just to browse local newspapers and journals to acquire a little background, or to borrow a book or two and indulge in some Hawaiiana when they've had too much sun and sand for the day. Of course, you need to be there to apply for the card and use the resources. And as soon as you leave the state, or in some cases the county or city, your card becomes just memorabilia. Or does it? Not necessarily.

PLCMC's Fame

A couple of years ago, PLCMC made its name well-known beyond its county limits, and among librarians in general, for two reasons. One is StoryPlace (http://www.storyplace.org), its bilingual (English and Spanish) site. Unlike the home pages of many libraries that claim to promote diversity (with their token "!Hola!" here and "! Adios!" there), StoryPlace's strategic plans go beyond the usual slogans. It actually delivers a good bilingual site for preschoolers (admittedly not the focus of Information Today's readers, but remarkable nonetheless).

PLCMC's other innovative service, brarydog.net, offers online users the option to store their customized MyPage on PLCMC's server, thus making it possible to access the personalized page from any-where--not just the user's own computer.

Helene Blowers, Web services director at PLCMC, summarized brarydog.net in the October 2000 issue of Information Today (p. 41 and http://www.infotoday.com/ it/oct00/news10.htm). She said the service can be accessed "from any computer that has access to the Internet--Mac or PC. With brarydog, people can get to the library's subscription-only online resources and can add their favorite links from anyplace on the Web to create a page with the resources and sites they like and use most. They can do this because each person will select a user ID and a password to gain access to his or her own brarydog page. Wherever they are, at whatever computer with Internet access, they use that ID and password to sign on, and their individual brarydog page will appear."

The press release went on to discuss the databases and other resources offered by PLCMC free of charge to all residents of Mecklenburg County. Somewhat embarrassingly, one sentence in the next paragraph escaped my attention then, even though it was (and still is) a most novel offering. …

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