Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#10, May 14, 1999. Published every Friday.



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My Rules of Information

1. Go where it is
2. The answer depends on the question
3. Research is a multi-stage process

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, the articles are brief, somewhere between 200 and 500 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features: RE:SEARCHING and Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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PRIVACY POLICY: I don't collect or reveal information about subscribers.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Contact me at: marylaine at netexpress.net

Visit My Other Sites

My Word's Worth

a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

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My page on all things book-related.

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Best Information on the Net

Still my favorite pit stop on the information Highway. This is a mirror of the real site, which is currently between servers.

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My personal page

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My resume

or, why you might want to hire me to speak at internet or library workshops or conferences, or have me consult on building your library page.

May 14: Cast your vote for the worst movies of all time, read 19th century magazines, and check out those names you were thinking about inflicting on your baby; as always, good stuff for librarians as well.

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine -- always keeping in mind that in response to readers, I may add, subtract, and change features.

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Archive of Previous Issues

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Part 2: What's the Best Search Engine?

Part 1: Clever Government Tricks

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My Favorite Sites on___:


Making Government Work Better

Hot Paper Topics



by , 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.


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 multiple "OR's."

    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, again.

    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 protected] http://www.oclc.org/

You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of these articles as long as you credit Ex Libris and give its URL.