Library reclaims its ground online

The relationship between the traditional wares of libraries and the explosion of often less formal information available online has been a source of sometimes bitter debate in the library profession.

The relationship between the traditional wares of libraries and the explosion of often less formal information available online has been a source of sometimes bitter debate in the library profession. The furore over yet another restructuring plan for the National Library is a case close to home. The emphasis on digitising collections, the subsuming of the Alexander Turnbull Library and the management of it all by non-librarians have been seized on as proof of a move away from core values. Happily, none of this appears to apply to Auckland City Libraries’ reinvention of its presence on the Internet (www.akcity.govt.nz/library). The nine-month development process has been guided by professional librarians. It has arrived on time and within budget and the knowledge professionals seem genuinely excited by their handiwork. The choice of Auckland’s McGovern Associates for the front-end Web development is a sound one. On projects like the Web site for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, McGovern has demonstrated an ability to bring order and clarity to large and complex information sites — and has done so here. Credit is also due to the Auckland City Council’s own IT group, which built the back end of the site. The key element, the library’s catalogue, is built on WebPAC, a third-party Java application that — thanks in part to the stripping out of extraneous graphics — loads quickly and runs well inside a browser. The catalogue allows users to conduct a variety of searches and reserve titles from the library’s collection online. Library members can also look directly into their own current borrowing records — a level of self-service that puts most commercial organisations to shame. Auckland City Libraries has identified services to business as a "core component" of its charter and that aim is reflected here in a solid business research section including, among other things, a range of links and canned searches generated by a third-party company called Proquest on topics such as e-commerce and the knowledge economy. The site also offers access to the ABI/Inform database of business writing and a window into the library’s fee-based Business Information Services. Auckland City’s pitch for more corporate library members should be rewarded. But there’s something pleasing about the fact that such professional services sit alongside the likes of an introduction to reading on philosophy, Iwidex (a catalogue of Maori resources) and kids’ and teens’ resources. There’s more depth in some parts of the site than others, but this is a confident and composed launch that adds value to what the library service already does. It bolsters the concept of the knowledge-based economy. And, most of all, it made me dig out my library card for the first time in a long time. Russell Brown edits the @IDG online news service. Contact Russell at russell_brown@idg.co.nz

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