Intervenor: Vol 25. No 3 & 4 July-December 2000

CELA Resource Centre Update

These days, I find myself thinking, "What is a library, anyway?" Like all libraries, the Resource Centre is being propelled at a rapid rate into a nebulous future, complete with all kinds of unusual intergalactic objects in it. It's a more or less continuous transition process, where everything from copyright to cataloguing needs to be rethought. In fact, the Resource Centre has already become less of a storehouse and more of an information service where the information may be anywhere-in the library in print, on a CD-ROM, in an in-house computer file, from a commercial online database, on video, or as a website link.

First and foremost among the issues affecting the Resource Centre is the huge ongoing impact of the Internet. On the one hand, it's an incredible advantage to be able to access, or even know about, things like the full text of an extensive recent Australian study comparing drinking water regulation in Europe, North America and Australia. On the other hand, there are more worrisome trends like the fact that many students now only do their research through the Internet, which is kind of scary because the Internet is still mostly a constantly shifting world of the present moment; a world without memory.

So, while trying to take advantage of technology, we don't want to lose our memory either. For example, a search on the Internet for Ontario Ministry of the Environment documents nets primarily materials from the last year or two. But the Resource Centre will still be hanging onto the Ministry's print reports going back to the 1970s that are in our collection, even though (or even more because) the Ministry itself may often no longer have these.

For new publications, however, the trend will definitely be to increase our reliance on electronic data as a percentage of the overall collection in the future, in order to provide access to a greater quantity of information, while simultaneously requiring less time for things like cataloguing, processing, and shelving. As a result, the Resource Centre will be able to provide additional information services.

Some of this change is already underway. For example, the Resource Centre website has been officially running for about a year now. Since January, when a counter was added, there have been about 3,600 visits, with the number of visitors every month increasing throughout the year. The site currently has information about the Resource Centre, the monthly list of recent library acquisitions, a range of bibliographies, and a variety of links to government and environmental sites. So far, the website has primarily been developing incrementally, as resources permit.

The big announcement for the website this year is a major project to put the catalogue of around 20,000 documents on the Internet. We are now on the brink of completing this project, which will consist of a database that will be searchable in a range of ways, from a simple keyword search for novices to the ability to perform a narrowly focused author, title, or publication date search. All new records now have an Internet address field, so that if the full text of the document is available on the Internet, someone searching the catalogue could go straight to the actual document. The official catalogue should be making its appearance sometime before the new year. The next transition project will be to rethink the Resource Centre's information services. In the past, this has meant providing public access to the physical library, with the Librarian there in person to assist people and to answer questions. However, that meant that the library was only really accessible to people in the greater GTA area. But as the website statistics show, there is an increasing opportunity to reach a lot more people through the website. So the next step will be to look at some of the ways we might use the potential of the website to share more of the information we have more broadly.
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Lisa McShane is the librarian at CELA

 at www.ecolawinfo.org