It was somewhat reassuring to hear from State Librarian Kendall Wiggin
that the services available to Connecticut's citizens from www.iconn.org
will continue through June 2002 but very worrisome that funding for 2003
and beyond may be in jeopardy. With Connecticut facing substantial deficits,
the Governors proposed budget for FY 2003 will be particularly hard on
libraries. Budget reductions have already been made in State Aide to Public
Libraries ($25,000) and Connecticard Reimbursements ($50,000) and a whopping
total reduction of $618,000 for the Digital Library. The Digital Library
is the epitome of future public library services. All that is required
for its use a library card and internet access.
If you wonder whether many people have internet access, a recent UCLA
Study reports that over 72% of Americans now have it available and the
number is increasing rapidly. So if your computer is on-line, why do you
need the Connecticut Digital Library? Isn't everything out there easily
accessible for free? Well, no! Use of search engines like Yahoo and Google
will surely get you to lots of websites that relate to your topic of interest
BUT, if you actually want to read full text or download images from published
material, it's not easy. The best collections of downloadable information
are not for free. That's why libraries that can afford it have been paying
substantial fees to subscribe to services that provide downloadable databases.
The services available from iCONN on the other hand are free to all public
libraries and schools no matter how small, large or financially hard pressed
they are. iCONN is also available at no cost from your home or office
computer provided that you have a library card. That's why FOCL has been
a strong supporter of iCONN .
Suppose you log-on to www.iconn.org. You first will be asked if you are
logging on from your library, school or home. If from home you will be
asked for the barcode number of your library card and, when the home page
comes up, you will be invited to search in any of a series of fifteen
databases covering education, news media, business, science and technology,
academics, literature, health and many other topics. The general features
of each database are described and if you wish you can look at the specific
array of publications in each database. Much additional help is also available
on-line including tutorials and an iCONN Training Manual. You can search
as a general user or restrict your search to things of interest to students
and teachers in the elementary, middle or high school levels or to the
college and professional level. For example, iCONN's Info Trac OneFile
database serves audiences from middle school on up and contains 3,100
full text and 6,000 indexed periodical titles. Access to these databases
is expensive and out of reach for most private citizens except through
their library provided the library has subscribed to a service.
Want information on laser eye surgery or the latest on diabetes. Search
in the Health and Wellness Resource Center. Business information is in
the Business and Company Resource Center. Doing research in science and
technology or the humanities? Check out the Expanded Academic ASAP database.
Here is an example from my own experience. Our town's 100 year old library
was replaced some years ago by a modern larger facility of more appropriate
design. The old library, an historic marble structure, was refurbished,
renamed The Augusta Curtis Cultural Center and is now available for general
use. I was asked to explore the possibility of using it for a science
fair. Although I judged some science fairs years ago, I wanted to get
up to date on the recent science fair scene so I grabbed my library card
and logged on to iCONN.
The General Reference Center Gold database responded to my science fair
search with 45 recent articles from sources in the USA as diverse as Business
Week, the Washington Post, Chemical Engineering News, New Scientist, Sky
and Telescope, the School Library Journal and many others. Each article
had an abstract and many had full text. The Info Trac OneFile came up
with 219 sources from the USA and overseas and including a number of books
and book reviews. A quick search of the reQuest Statewide Library Catalog
told me which libraries in my area had those books. In a short time I
had information ranging from general organization, through suggestions
for judges, to ideas for specific projects. I am an old retired friend
of the library not a professional educator but now, after a few hours
spent on iCONN, I feel I'm ready to discuss the science fair proposal
with the pros.
I suggest that anyone who wants information on any subject whatsoever
give iCONN a try. If you want to get checked out on its use, go to your
library for instruction. Let me know how you make out. I'd like to report
on success stories as well as problems.
In the first five months of its existence, from July to November of last
year, more than 1.7 million visitors carried out searches on iCONN. In
this short time it has already become a vital resource for Connecticut's
citizens and we urge you all to support its continuation in the future.
The next legislative session starts in February. Let your local representatives
know how you feel about the Connecticut Digital Library.
Gil Alwang, Editor