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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

‘Access anytime, anywhere’

Why schlep across town when you can access your school’s library material at the click of a mouse in your bedroom? The e-bookshelf is here to stay.

By Alanna Mitchell
The Globe and Mail

Six years ago, the library system at Queen’s University didn’t count the number of online hits it got from students because the number was so small. Today, the hits have gone past 12 million a year, a sign of how fast the electronic library has become indispensable to students.


“As far as the undergraduates go, electronic is where they live,” said Paul Wiens, university librarian of the Kingston, Ont.-based Queen’s, the highest ranked library system in this student survey on each front.


He added: “It’s a complete change.” It’s the same story at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., ranked second by students both on library services and online library resources. At Western, the motto is: “Access anytime, anywhere,” said Joyce Garnett, the university librarian.


“You have to be sensitive to what students expect,” she said. “They’ve grown up in a different era. It’s high-tech, high-touch.”


Just as at other university libraries in Canada, the move to offer electronic resources at Western has happened quickly. Five years ago, Western’s libraries had no journals fully accessible online. Today, Western has 30,000, in addition to the 7.6 million physical items, such as books, microforms and music that are housed in the library buildings and still heavily used.


That means, for example, that a student can sit at home and read journals on screen at the kitchen table. No schlepping across town to the campus. No searching for the physical journal in the stacks.


Warren Ross, 23, who has just finished his fourth year in media, information and techno-culture at Western, said he was flabbergasted when he realized that he could have an online chat with a librarian in real time.


Once, for example, he couldn’t remember which books he still had out. He clicked on the library chat room and a staff member answered back within 10 seconds. She walked him through the online instructions to check his books and renew them if necessary. He has also done research by consulting an online librarian.


He said being able to get information and research electronically simply makes his academic life more efficient. “I just don’t want to have to worry about walking all the way across campus to get to the library,” he said. Still, not everyone embraces the whole-hearted move to electronic libraries. Richard Ellis, university librarian at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld., said he has no plans to make sure that a student scrambling to write an essay hours before it is due can pull up any journal at will.


“If you’re still doing research at midnight the night before the essay is due, you have more problems than I can solve,” he said. “You’re supposed to read this stuff and think about it. We’re not miracle workers.”



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