The Electronic Library

The official address of the new IUPUI library is 755 W. Michigan Street, but a more fitting address might be 2000 Information Superhighway. That is because this library, which has been open to the public for almost a year now, was designed explicitly for the Twenty-first Century and the Electronic Age.

Eons ago--that is, the late 1980s for those unfamiliar with time in the computer age--you could locate books and articles in the old library only by rummaging through the card catalog or any number of hefty indexes or bibliographies. To check books out, you had to fill out a form for each volume. Name, address, author, title, call number . . . after a half dozen forms you felt like you'd lost a thumb-wrestling bout with a pianist on steroids.

Now, however, the circulation and cataloging systems are automated. From a single IO (information on-line) computer workstation you have access to the card catalogs of all IU and other state libraries, along with numerous newspaper and magazine indexes. To check books out, you simply take them to the front desk and hand your ID card to the library assistant. Machines do all the rest and feed the information about the location of books back into the computer system. If a book or article is not in the IUPUI library, a computerized search process can locate it at another library in minutes rather than weeks, as before.

There is more information outside the library walls than is printed on paper, however, and access to that information is now possible thanks to the crowning glory of the new library, the scholar's workstations. These high-powered computers are hooked into a worldwide network of information in all sorts of different media. Want to watch a news program on German TV? Listen to some baroque chamber music? Study an exhibit of Vatican art? Share information on solar eclipses with astronomers from Houston, Moscow, and Tokyo? Pet a wallaby in the Melbourne zoo?

Well, you cannot pet the wallaby--yet. But you can do all the other things and much, much more. "It's one of the most sophisticated workstations in the United States," says Barbara Fischler, director of IUPUI libraries.

Sophisticated, yet not difficult to operate. "It is easy enough for beginners to use and advanced enough for scholars to explore forever," says Fischler, the person responsible for many of the library's boldest innovations. She and her team of librarians, systems and computer analysts, faculty members, and students designed the scholar's workstations so that users can follow a set of relatively simple on-screen guidelines rather than having to learn one complicated procedure for video, another for electronic mail, and so forth.

Consideration for users is evident in many other ways as well. Workstation screens have an opening message in the six most common languages spoken on the IUPUI campus (English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Chinese). There are special accommodations for patrons with disabilities. And librarians are always on call to help users with problems. In short, this library offers technology with a very human face.

At present, the library contains fifty scholar's workstations and fifty IO workstations. All told, though, there are over 1,700 data jacks in the library, including some 600 for laptop computers, which soon--perhaps as early as this fall--will be available for checkout at the front desk. So there is plenty of room to incorporate the latest advances in computer technology--a crucial feature in a world where advances occur with such lightning rapidity.

The number of computer jacks is not a true measure of the library's electronic capacity, however, for the library was designed with the remote user in mind as well as the patron on the premises. You can already dial into the IO system from libraries around the state--or from your office or home. By this fall, you will be able to dial into much of the new information system as well.

And what of books in this rapidly expanding computer world? Will the printed word, the mainstay of traditional libraries, gradually disappear as electronic multimedia applications continue to evolve? "My crystal ball says books will always be with us," says Fischler. "And there are still plenty of people who would want a library filled with nothing but books. We will serve them, too." Indeed, the new library has room for more than one million volumes, almost three times the capacity of the old one.

"But," she continues, "these people will find that their books will be infinitely more valuable to them if they take advantage of these electronic opportunities as well."

--Mark Buechler