Yale Bulletin and Calendar

November 22, 2002|Volume 31, Number 12|Two-Week Issue














This summer, the Yale Library completed the first phase of a multi-year project to transfer the data in its card catalogs onto the Orbis online database. The library will continue to keep its card catalogs available for the public to use.

In Focus: Yale Library

Online services give users
easier access to collections

Ever since the ancient Sumerians began systematically collecting cuneiform records more than 5,000 years ago, libraries have existed to acquire and hold collections of books and documents, and to make those collections available to readers.

Whether a library serves an elite class of priests or the entire literate population of the world, it has to provide the means to "unlock the collections it houses," notes Yale's University Librarian Alice Prochaska.

"A library is only as good as the access it provides its users," she says.

With more than 10.7 million volumes, and growing by 200,000 more a year, the collection at the Yale University Library is among the world's largest. The system represents 22 separate libraries. In addition to the Sterling Memorial Library, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Cushing-Whitney Medical Library, these include libraries devoted to Social Sciences, Divinity, the Arts, Sciences, Forestry & Environmental Science, Music and more.

Providing access to such a vast collection is obviously a challenge, all the more so when the library is a source of information for scholars and researchers around the globe, notes Prochaska.

Since she became University Librarian in August 2001, Prochaska has overseen major advances in the way the Yale Library achieves its mission to increase and maintain its vast collections and to facilitate public access to them.

A few years ago, Yale initiated a "Retrospective Conversion" project to transfer the information on Yale's paper card catalogues to its online database, Orbis. A major milestone was reached this summer with the completion of the "Roman alphabet" phase of the project -- that is, all the cards created in Roman script have been transferred to Orbis. Remaining to be completed in 2003 is the conversion of records in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Hebrew.

Meanwhile, the original card catalogues have been kept and will continue to be available as another aid to research."We still have ahead of us a lot of clean up and other parts of the catalog that haven't been converted," says Associate University Library Danuta Nitecki, who oversees public services.

The digitization of Yale's catalog, a process that began in the 1980s, has greatly enhanced the accessibility of its collections, notes Prochaska. Anyone working from an Internet terminal anywhere in the world can use Orbis. In a few clicks, the searcher will know where the book is, whether it is in circulation and whether it is checked out. In the case of some journals and many newspapers, Orbis also provides a direct link to the online edition. The Yale Library makes available some 20,000 journal titles in electronic format to students, faculty and staff.

Yale's online database is only one of many programs that have increased the accessibility of the University's collections. Yale has for many years participated with other libraries in Interlibrary Loan Services. Anyone with borrowing privileges at a participating library anywhere in the world can request an item from Yale's collections. If the requested book or periodical is available, it will be delivered within days to the borrower's library.

A variant of the Interlibrary Loan Services, called "Borrow Direct," allows students from Yale, Brown, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania to borrow directly from each other's collections. The fact that the universities enrolled in the program are all Ivy League institutions is coincidental, says Nitecki. In fact, she expects that the program, which is still in its early stages, will be adopted on other campuses as word of its success spreads in academic circles.

Nitecki points out that Borrow Direct has advantages over the regular interlibrary loan services. Chief among them is that it eliminates the need for most "real time" -- that is, person-to-person -- assistance. A student searching for a specific title on Orbis can find out if Yale owns the book, if the book can be loaned and if it has already been checked out. If the book is not currently available at Yale, the student can issue a request through Borrow Direct to see if the book can be borrowed from any of the other participating libraries. If the system indicates that the book is available at Princeton, for example, a request to borrow it is sent there electronically. Library staff are only involved in retrieving and sending the book at one end, and in receiving the book at the other end. The system automatically notifies the borrower that the volume is ready for pick-up.

Another innovation that encourages library users to help themselves is the recently launched "Ask! Live," an experimental program that connects users and reference librarians online in real time. Through this service, librarians can not only converse with patrons by text but can also browse helpful websites with them. Of course, e-mail, phone calls and in person visits to Yale's reference desk are still encouraged, notes Prochaska.

Yet another user-oriented program offered by the Yale Library is "Eli Express." This allows borrowers to order books directly through Orbis to be delivered at the Yale library of their choice. If a borrower at Yale finds it inconvenient to retrieve a book from, say, the Divinity School Library, he or she can arrange online to pick up the book at a more convenient library.

With the assistance of her staff, Prochaska has identified a number of goals for the Yale Library and has been developing a strategic plan to achieve them within the next five years. She lists as the three top priorites improving the library's core services to the Yale community; creating a "mature integrated library" in which users will have the best possible access to material in all formats; and developing the concept of the International Library, which includes access to Yale's noted international collections and increasing interaction with library and information communities around the world.

"It will be an important priority in the next five years to build up and fully catalogue international collections at Yale and to enter into partnership with the faculty in providing leadership at an international level. This will include inviting librarians from developing countries, in particular, to work with librarians at Yale," Prochaska says.

"Yale University Library ought also to play a full part in the international library community's work on freedom of access to information," she adds.

-- By Dorie Baker


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