OPLIN: THIS LIBRARY SYSTEM WORKS. DOES YOURS?
by James Switzer,
Trustee, Akron-Summit County Public Library (Ohio)
Marylaine asked me to write a short article about "what the state library system does for my library." I'm not a
librarian, though I do wear glasses, like cats, and often win at Trivial Pursuit. I'm a retired English professor who
keeps busy by gardening and being on the board of our public library.
Until recently I didn't know Ohio had a state library system. I vaguely knew we had a state library somewhere in
Columbus, but what it did for my library? I hadn't a clue. As I've spent more time on the board, attended more
conferences, met more people, I've learned that the state library does a number of things for Ohio's libraries, but the
single thing that I think librarians in other states should know about is OPLIN. Pronounced with a long "o," OPLIN is
the Ohio Public Library Information Network and it's on the web at http://www.oplin.lib.oh.us/ .
Its mission is simple: "to ensure equity of access to information for all Ohio citizens," and it's working. My library,
a reasonably large county system with Main and seventeen branch libraries, subscribes to over 1300 serial titles. I was
astounded at the number. The Grafton Public Library, with no branches, subscribes to 140 titles. But thanks to OPLIN,
we can both access several thousand titles, mostly full text, in the several databases available on line. My own
library's branches are now like small independent libraries, able to access material instantly on line that previously
took a call to Main, a search, and a wait for delivery.
For a number of Ohio's smaller libraries, OPLIN is their internet access. Each of Ohio's 250 library districts has at
least one T-1 line, which means wide bandwidth, which means speed. Many libraries use OPLIN as their home page; they
don't have to pay for design and upkeep. One librarian surprised me by saying OPLIN allows her to get rid of stuff like
back issues of magazines and open valuable space in her small building for new and more heavily used materials.
Much of OPLIN's data is licensed to Ohio's libraries only and folks need to show up at a library to use it. I find that
frustrating because I'm in my library several times a week but I'm on line at home every day, often when the library is
closed. But soon, I'm told, we will be able to enter our library card number and have access to the entire site from
home, with our local library getting credit for the hit. For me, that means NoveList and NetWellness on my desktop.
If all this is available to Ohio resident only, why tell you about it? Not really to gloat, but perhaps to offer a bit
of hope: our legislature funds OPLIN through the state library. If your state library does not do something similar, perhaps your legislature can be persuaded to do the
same for your citizens.
On a more practical level, my librarian friends tell me that they are regularly asked for information about other
states. OPLIN connects to a wealth of information about Ohio's government, its history, even its trees.
It's also a directory of directories with contents preselected by librarians. Check out OH!Kids--I enjoy surfing there
myself. OH!Teach offers lesson plan ideas, education e-zines, and more. Coming this fall will be OH!Librarians with
who knows what tasty tidbits tucked away in it. In Ohio we think OH! refers to the state, but in Iowa, which many New
Yorkers confuse with Ohio anyway, it could just mean OH!
Enough! I sound like a commercial for OPLIN. But it turns out that Ohio's state library does do things for my library,
and for me, and thanks to the web, for you as well. And there's more to come. I'll save you from scrolling up for the
link; it's http://www.oplin.lib.oh.us/ . Surf for yourself.
MY 4TH RULE OF INFORMATION: ASK YOUR LIBRARIAN
As our kids would say, well, DUH. Of course people should ask their librarians. Why?
Because we know our collections cold
Because sometimes people give up when the answers weren't in the places they expected to find them. (How often is the real question concealed behind the question "Where are your Readers' Guides?)
Because we try to figure out what the actual information need is, and fit
it to the way our systems are organized.
Because we are better at thinking up and down a continuum--if we don't have books on Siamese cats, we do have books on cat breeds and cat care; we also have magazine indexes and databases that will find us articles on Siamese cats; we may also have the right sort of books in the children's collection where the patron didn't think to look.
Because we know how to make the databases sit up, roll over, and curl up in our laps and purr. The fact that our users did not find it in the databases doesn't mean that WE can't find it. As the incomparable Barbara Quint said in the most recent issue of Searcher, "I am Natural Language Processing."
Because, unlike our users, we start out with the gut-deep conviction that the answer EXISTS, and by God, on our honor as librarians, we ARE going to find it.
So, it's obvious to US that people should ask a librarian. Why isn't it obvious to the rest of the world?
And for my FIFTH RULE, "Information is meaningless until it is approached by a human intelligence," see my article, Data Connector.
[This is OCLC's encouraging answer to my article Some Quibbles with OCLC's FirstSearch.]
Thank you for your first-paragraph blessings to the OCLC FirstSearch service
in the April 30 edition of Ex Libris.
Happily, a new version of FirstSearch, coming out later this summer,
addresses your "quibbles," all of which are very good suggestions! (I'm
sorry you have had bad experiences in the past when making suggestions about
improving FirstSearch; virtually every enhancement we've made to FirstSearch
over the years has been as a direct result of input from librarians. And
I'm sorry no one at these workshops mentioned "search history" to you;
FirstSearch has had it via the Web interface since the fall of 1997. We're
not gettin' the word out!)
OCLC is redesigning the entire FirstSearch interface . . . right along the
lines you outline in your article! The opening screen will offer help to
users in picking the right database, and the FirstSearch system
administrator can customize the order in which databases appear on the
screen. What's more, administrators will be able to name the subject
categories themselves, or leave them in their current categories.
Administrators will even be able to make their own "virtual databases" and
name them anything they want.
And we're making full text easier to find than ever. Not only will
databases that have full text be clearly marked on the database selection
screen, but brief records retrieved will have icons that indicate both
online full text AND a library's own print holdings, if the library has
added its holdings to the OCLC WorldCat database. Even better, any full
text a library has obtained through FirstSearch will be automatically linked
to relevant citations in other databases. For example, if a library has
purchased the Wilson Select database with full text, that full text will be
retrievable from other databases that cite Wilson Select articles. (And
there'll be an icon right up front to tell users so.)
Like you, many FirstSearch users prefer the "advanced search" screen. With
new FirstSearch, the system administrator can make that the default search
screen. (A "basic" screen will still be available, along with a new
"expert" mode.) New FirstSearch will also allow truncation, wild cards, and
The new FirstSearch will completely integrate the growing collection of
FirstSearch Electronic Collections Online into the service. Electronic
Collections Online now has over 1,400 journals available, with more than 800
more already scheduled for load.
Folks who want to keep up-to-date with new FirstSearch can check here:
http://www.oclc.org/oclc/menu/fs_new.htm . . . and keep those "quibbles"
coming! They help us build better products for our member libraries. Thanks,
Tam Dalrymple Reference & Resource Sharing Product Marketing
OCLC, Inc. 6565 Frantz Road Dublin, Ohio 43017-3395
TEL: 800-848-5878 x5054 or 614-761-5054
FAX: 614-764-1640 E-MAIL: email@example.com