Indiana University       Research & Creative Activity       January 2001 • Volume XXIII, Number 3

IUCAT Prowls the Web

A great migration has occurred at IU, but it has nothing to do wintering birds or shifting students.

Five-and-a-half-million bibliographic records in the IU Libraries (IUL) catalog have just “migrated” to the World Wide Web. The catalog, known as IUCAT, has been online for some ten years, but to get to it, you had to use the sometimes frustrating technology of Telnet, in which things such as printing and downloading require cumbersome cutting and pasting. With the migration, the catalog is now accessible directly through the Web, and printing records is as easy as clicking a browser button.

But printing is hardly the biggest advantage of the new IUCAT.

“You get all the features of the Web with the catalog,” explains Mary Popp, public services librarian in IUL’s information technology services division. “What that means is, links can be made between individual records. So if I’m looking for something on a particular subject and I find the perfect title, I can click a hypertext link to subject headings that match that perfect title, helping me find other materials on the topic.

“It also lets us make links from the catalog to outside resources,” Popp continues. “For example, if you find a listing for the Journal of Black Studies, you can click on a hypertext link that will take you directly to the journal’s Web site. Then you can search for your article.”

SIRSI Corp., a library technology company, designed the system used to make IUCAT available through the Web. The new system includes a full electronic reserves module, similar to the Errol system developed at IUPUI, and will search the IU catalog by library location, finding materials available specifically at IU Kokomo, for instance, or IU Southeast.

Phyllis Davidson, director of IUL’s information technology division, points out that the Web-based catalog eventually will search across multiple databases.

“You’ll be able to search the catalog and, at the same time, search all of the Big Ten libraries,” she says. “One query, and you search a multitude of places. That isn’t there right now, but that’s the kind of thing that having a Web-based interface allows us to do.”

The library catalog room at Indiana University, ca. 1903 The IU Libraries catalog on the Web, January 2001

Like its predecessor, the sleeker, more powerful IUCAT is accessible to anyone. Users from anywhere may view the libraries’ bibliographic records and lists of holdings. However, they won’t be able to click through to IUL’s several hundred reference and research databases unless they are authenticated electronically as affiliated with IU. When it comes to digital library resources, the issues of access and economics definitely tangle the Web.

“People think, ‘Oh, it’s on the Web? It’s free,’” says Ann Bristow, head of the reference department at the IUB Main Library. But that’s decidedly not the case with an online database, she points out. “It comes to you because your library has subscribed to it for you.”

Martha Brogan, associate dean of libraries and director of collection development, negotiates many of IU’s subscriptions, or licenses, for online databases and indexes. “Vendors use lots of different methods for assessing campuses fees, but a really typical one is the full-time equivalent (FTE) student base,” Brogan explains. “Prices can range from 40 cents per FTE student to several dollars. LEXIS®-NEXIS® (a widely used information database) charges $1.50 a user. And every year, prices go up 5 to 8 percent.”

The high cost of electronic reference tools (they cost more than their paper counterparts—“I can’t think of any bargains,” Bristow says) means that librarians face some tough choices about access. “Publishers often charge us differently for access within the library vs. access on campus vs. the ability for authenticated users to dial in from anywhere,” says Popp.

The cost of subscribing to online reference and research tools has been a significant obstacle for IU’s regional campuses. But the IU Library system hopes to change that in the near future with IU-Link, a proposal developed by Brogan and others. According to Brogan, by negotiating online resource licenses on a systemwide basis, IU-Link will dramatically increase the quantity and breadth of digital resources across the IU community.

“Right now, access to major indexing and abstracting reference tools on the various campuses is really disparate,” Brogan says. “Our goal is to expand the pool of electronic resources commonly held among the campuses from about ten to more than sixty. We see IU-Link as a great way to strengthen the level of excellence on all the campuses.”

If IU’s $3 million allocation increase for IU-Link is approved by the state, Brogan says IU-Link will move forward as quickly as possible. “We’ll be more efficient when we have a wider pool of money available,” she says. “But it will take some time to implement.”

Resources such as IUCAT on the Web and IU-Link will surely be widely used, even if they may boggle the mind of patrons—and librarians—who lived through the days of wooden card catalogs, photocopies, and file folders.

“When I first came to the reference department in 1974,” Bristow recalls, “one of the librarians had a personal subscription to the New York Times. The index to the Times was always six months behind, so she would cut out the week’s daily events from the Sunday edition, and we put it in our own little file. I sometimes think about the leap we’ve made from that point to now, when we can search every word in the Times going back to 1980. It’s utterly amazing.” —L.B.

For more information:
• IU Libraries statewide
• IUB Library Online Resources, including
IUCAT and databases:

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