Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2005

Area city libraries adeptly navigate information age

August 18, 2005

Twenty-four hour news networks ... high-speed Internet access ... cellular telephones ... e-mail updates.

Today truly is an information age, and there's no shortage of ways available for the American consumer to quench their need to know.

However, what role do libraries -- once used by many as the primary vessel for acquiring information -- play in this new, fast-paced era?

An important one, local librarians say.

While some may view libraries as dusty old relics ill-suited for today's needs, even the smallest of community libraries have adjusted their operations to fit the times.

"The main role libraries play is helping people find the information they need," said Carla Kaiser, director of the Basehor Community Library. "Before it was done with print materials. Now, the information is in a different format, but we're still trained in helping people find whatever it is they need."

During a recent national library campaign, libraries across the country promoted their growing list of services and raised awareness to the fact the libraries aren't antiques of yesteryear, but an emerging, inexpensive way to stay plugged in.

Once a source for reading the local newspaper, or acquiring classics from Hemingway and Dickens, libraries now find themselves poised as portals for residents to acquire information in all forms. They're also proving themselves to be valuable teachers to those technology-phobic holdouts.

Most libraries, including those in Basehor, Linwood and Bonner Springs, have multiple computers with Internet access. Each has employees available to train patrons who need help in learning a computer.

A year ago, the Basehor library began offering classes to teach Internet and e-mail use to elderly residents. Kaiser said the program has been popular.

Kaiser said libraries' evolution from print materials only to a wide variety of media has occurred gradually during the past two decades. A big step was upgrading source material, such as the card catalog, to an electronic format.

While the process was painstaking at times, Kaiser said it brought libraries to a new frontier.

"It was a big process for the libraries to go through, but it has opened it up for so many people at home," she said. "Now they don't have to come to the library. They can check our Web site for (available materials)."

Though people with a home computer can get much of the same information at home that they can at the library, libraries do have one significant advantage, Kaiser said. Years ago, Kansas purchased the right to several large databases -- on Web sites -- that a home user may have to pay to view.

With a Kansas library card, consumers can access much of that information for free.

"A lot of it is more in-depth, more of the full text, than what you'd be able to find with a Google search," Kaiser said.

Although it's occurred with less fanfare than other informational tools, libraries have become an important access point for the new technological era. Kaiser said she envisions many patrons visiting the library for its new offerings as well as its time-tested ones.

"I'd still say most people come to the library for material, whether it be books, magazines, etc.," Kaiser said, "but we definitely have more and more people that are coming in only to use the Internet. And, there are a lot of people that are doing both.

"Any way we can help with someone's information needs, we will. That's what we do, that's what we're supposed to do."

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