Computers in Libraries
Vol. 22, No. 9 • October 2002

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Imagine the Way Libraries Could Be
by Kathy Dempsey

I love this theme that we called Redefining the Library Experience. It gave all you readers out there a chance to tell us your stories about how technology is changing libraries. In some cases, the stories were about how librarians are changing technology. It's a shame we only got to choose five to publish.

There's one story that most of you can probably relate to. On page 22 you'll start reading about how the S.A.I.L.S. Library Network chose a new OPAC that gave its patrons a much richer library experience. The iBistro system it chose includes book jackets and those sorts of "bookstore" things that patrons have started clamoring for. This is one fundamental way to redefine the library experience.

As an example of technology changing libraries, check out the article on "Planet PDA" (page 32). How are life and work flow altered by introducing an "alien" technology? Personal Digital Assistants aren't just toys for teens anymore.If you think they have no place in libraries, you'd better beam aboard and see what all the fuss is about!

Then we have an example of librarians changing technology with something called MusiCat. One longtime librarian in Denmark was tired of people searching without much success. So he started with one section of the library's holdings (the traditionally hard-to-search collection of musical scores and recordings) and rebuilt it to allow natural-language thought. Now patrons don't have to understand music cataloging; they can just click on a topic (like folk music) and then, from resulting menus, choose a country, a style, a particular dance, etc. The author found that intuitive searching yields much better hits, and the users love it (page 26). Innovation can pay off!

Now, for the product that everyone thoughtwould revolutionize libraries: e-books. What's out there today? How do they work? How can you choose between them? Take a safely guided tour through E-Book Land (page 14) to help decide whether you should consider adding these to your collections.

Finally, check out a technology that promises to redefine the library like few others have: artificial intelligence. Roy Balleste, who was starting to implementAIin his own law library as he wrote this article, has put together a great primer to introduce librarians to the concept. In a simple, unintimidating way, he tells you just what artificial intelligence is, what it does, and how it can improve library service. Then he lists many vendors, explains each product, and gives you examples ofWeb sites where AI already operates. From the comfort of your own desk you can check out these beings; chat and interact with them. Then start dreaming of all the patron questions they could field for you!

In our industry, as in others today, the status quo just won't do anymore. We have to keep thinking of ways to be better, more interesting, more useful, and more attractive to users and potential users. I hope this issue sparks your imagination!

Kathy Dempsey, Editor

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