eBooks: 1999 – Librarians in cyberspace

by Marie Lebert on July 18, 2011

eBooks: 1999 - Librarians in cyberspace

To help their patrons deal with the internet, to select and organize information for them, to create and maintain websites, to check specialized databases and to update online catalogs became daily tasks for librarians.

Here are two examples, with Peter Raggett at the Central Library of OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and Bruno Didier at the Library of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France.

At the OECD Central Library

Based at the OECD headquarters in Paris, the Central Library offered 60,000 monographs and 2,500 periodicals in 1998, as well as microfilms, CD-ROMs, and databases like Dialog, Lexis-Nexis and UnCover. The library began setting up its own webpages in 1996, on the intranet of the organization, in order to support the staff’s research work.

Peter Raggett, deputy-head (and then head) of the Central Library, wrote in August 1999: “At the OECD Library we have collected together several hundred websites and have put links to them on the OECD intranet. They are sorted by subject and each site has a short annotation giving some information about it. The researcher can then see if it is possible that the site contains the desired information. This is adding value to the site references and in this way the Central Library has built up a virtual reference desk on the OECD network. As well as the annotated links, this virtual reference desk contains pages of references to articles, monographs and websites relevant to several projects currently being researched at the OECD, network access to CD-ROMs, and a monthly list of new acquisitions. The library catalogue will soon be available for searching on the intranet. The reference staff at the OECD Library uses the internet for a good deal of their work. Often an academic working paper will be on the web and will be available for full-text downloading. We are currently investigating supplementing our subscriptions to certain of our periodicals with access to the electronic versions on the internet.” (NEF Interview)

What about finding information on the internet? “The internet has provided researchers with a vast database of information. The problem for them is to find what they are seeking. Never has the information overload been so obvious as when one tries to find information on a topic by searching the internet. When one uses a search engine like Lycos or AltaVista or a directory like Yahoo!, it soon becomes clear that it can be very difficult to find valuable sites on a given topic. These search mechanisms work well if one is searching for something very precise, such as information on a person who has an unusual name, but they produce a confusing number of references if one is searching for a topic which can be quite broad. Try and search the web for Russia AND transport to find statistics on the use of trains, planes and buses in Russia. The first references you will find are freight-forwarding firms that have business connections with Russia.”

How about the future? “The internet is impinging on many peoples’ lives, and information managers are the best people to help researchers around the labyrinth. The internet is just in its infancy and we are all going to be witnesses to its growth and refinement. (…) Information managers have a large role to play in searching and arranging the information on the internet. I expect that there will be an expansion in internet use for education and research. This means that libraries will have to create virtual libraries where students can follow a course offered by an institution at the other side of the world. Personally, I see myself becoming more and more a virtual librarian. My clients may not meet me face-to-face but instead will contact me by email, telephone or fax, and I will do the research and send them the results electronically.”

At the Pasteur Institute Library

The Pasteur Institutes are observatories for studying infectious and parasite-borne diseases. After being a “traditional” librarian, Bruno Didier created in 1996 the website of the Pasteur Institute Library in Paris, France, and became its webmaster.

He explained in August 1999: “The main aim of the Pasteur Institute Library website is to serve the Institute itself and its associated bodies. It supports applications that have become essential in such a big organization: bibliographic databases, cataloging, ordering of documents and of course access to online periodicals (presently more than 100). It is a window for our different departments, at the Institute but also elsewhere in France and abroad. It plays a big part in documentation exchanges with the institutes in the worldwide Pasteur network. I am trying to make it an interlink adapted to our needs for exploration and use of the internet. The website has existed in its present form since 1996 and its audience is steadily increasing. (…) I build and maintain the webpages and monitor them regularly. I am also responsible for training our patrons to use the internet.” (NEF Interview)

What has changed in his work? “Our relationship with both the information and the users is what changes. We are increasingly becoming mediators, and perhaps to a lesser extent ‘curators’. My present activity is typical of this new situation: I am working to provide quick access to information and to create effective means of communication, but I also train people to use these new tools. (…) I think the future of our job is tied to cooperation and use of common resources. It is certainly an old project, but it is really the first time we have had the means to set it up.”

Copyright © 2011 Marie Lebert

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