Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ink And Paper And A Bus Journey

In the early 1990s I had an office in the back room of a library. We were setting up a European Information and Economic Intelligence Unit at the time and someone within the Council decided that a suitable location for it would be in the back room of the Public Library. As the European Information and Economic Intelligence Officer (yes, I was able to answer the phone by saying EIEIO) I argued against a library-based office, saying that I wanted the Unit to be paperless and I wanted the raw material to be digital rather than stuffy old ink and paper. We shared the same tea room as the Library Staff and I recall many a happy argument about the future of printed media. I even submitted a mock report at one stage to the Chief Librarian saying that it would soon be financially viable to shut all the local libraries down, sack all the staff, sell all the books, and give people a free computer and a disk drive.
Of course it didn't come about as I imagined it would do. I thought that the future of information would be disk-based and not web-based and I underestimated the pull of paper and cardboard. I also got the timescale wrong. However, eighteen years down the line, perhaps some of my predictions were not all that far off the mark. These thoughts were prompted by my need the other day to look someone up in the Dictionary of National Biography. I don't have a copy and the local library is a fair old bus ride away so I checked out - without much hope - on-line access. I found that you can take out an on-line subscription and it costs £195 per year. I was just about to leave the site - and abandon my investigation into the life of John Pudney - when I noticed a second log-in option which asked for your library card number. After a bit of experimentation I discovered that my local Kirklees Library Card entitles me to log-in free of charge. 
Further investigation revealed that my ability to access the Dictionary of National Biography forms part of something called the 24 Hour Library Service which also gives access to the full Oxford Reference Collection and a powerful press cutting service called NewsBank. It is not just my own Local Authority that has this kind of access : most local authorities throughout the country have similar arrangements which allow people to access powerful on-line sources of information via noting more than their library card number.
It's not ink and paper, I know, but it beats a half-hour bus journey any day of the week.

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