Librarians’ eyes shine when they talk about this one.
Imagine the resources of the biggest big-city library. Articles from more than a thousand reputable magazines, on everything from advanced academic research to home repair, marketing to pesticides.
All available in every public or school library across Idaho, even the smallest and most isolated.
Gov. Phil Batt is recommending funding next year for a statewide license that would allow all of Idaho’s libraries to tap into full-text databases that provide far more magazine articles than an average Idaho library can supply. Now the Legislature is considering whether to approve the $465,000 proposal.
“It just opens up a universe of information,” said Rand Simmons, network consultant for the Idaho State Library. “Really, it levels the playing field. It doesn’t matter if somebody lives in a very rural area like Salmon - they have the same opportunities as someone in Boise, or for that matter, someone in Seattle.”
Larry Almeida, a reference librarian at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, gets frustrated a lot. The Coeur d’Alene Library has about 150 magazine subscriptions, well above the Idaho average of fewer than 35. But still, a familiar scene tends to play out at the library.
A patron comes in, “someone who’s either got a fairly difficult business question, or say a high school student who’s doing a paper and has run out of resources in their library. So they come to us,” Almeida said.
“They find something in one of our indexes, or the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, which is a very popular index we also use. They find things and get excited and come up to the desk, and then they learn - well, we’re sorry, we don’t have that.”
“That happens more than we’d like,” Almeida said sadly.
Gov. Phil Batt’s office has received more than 65 letters and e-mails from across the state supporting the proposal. Many came from teachers, librarians, library trustees or volunteers.
“I was convinced by the letters … that this would be a good asset for all Idahoans,” Batt said. “They convinced me enough that I put it in my budget.”
One of the letters was from the Bonner County School Board, which noted that the 6,000 students in 17 schools in Bonner County typically see only limited library resources. “Print periodicals vary from three to four, to 50 per library,” the trustees wrote.
Tamara Degitz of Sandpoint, a businesswoman and former Hayden library branch manager, said the new service would be a “fantastic resource.”
“While our local library has a nice collection of magazines, it does not have the information I need to assist in the growth of our company,” Degitz wrote. “I must wait two to four weeks while waiting to acquire the necessary data via larger, regional libraries.”
Joe Reiss, director of the Post Falls library, told the governor how Post Falls voters gave 77 percent approval to build a new library.
“Governor, you’ve done a good job of maintaining the economic health of this state,” Reiss wrote. “Can Idaho remain economically healthy and attractive to new investment if its citizenry falls behind in the fields of education and information? Statistics and history say no.”
Diane Prorak, a librarian from Moscow, wrote, “Most libraries in Idaho do not have subscriptions to nearly this many magazines.” She called the plan “a bargain for the people in the state.”
Libraries will need Internet access to use the service, but 86 percent already have that access, Simmons said.
Although patrons use the Internet now to search for information, the information they find is often unreliable, librarians said.
Terri Wear, a reference librarian at the Ada Community Library near Boise, said, “Most of these magazines are not available on the Internet. They may have sites there, but then you have to put a credit card (number) in.”
With the full-text database, patrons will know they are getting information directly from authoritative sources, librarians said.
When the Legislature’s budget committee got its first look at the proposal Friday, supporters crowded into the room. They included the committee co-chairman’s niece and another senator’s wife.
But some committee members expressed misgivings. Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, questioned why libraries couldn’t pay a subscription fee to help offset the cost to the state.
Some libraries already have more limited database services, but they’re paying dearly for them. The Ada Community Library is paying about $20,000 a year for its service, which provides access to about 800 journals.
The budget committee will decide the plan’s fate in mid-February.
If the Legislature approves the funding, the Idaho State Library will go through a bidding process to select a vendor for the service. Simmons said it could be up and running by next fall.
It is not the state library’s only effort to reach out to local libraries. The Idaho State Library also has developed Libraries Linking Idaho, a Web site, and is seeking state funding for software that would allow one-stop searches for materials that can be found in any participating library across the state.
For now, the Internet site, located at http://www.lili.org, offers a directory of Idaho libraries, catalogs, homework help for students, Idaho information and links to other sites. Until the end of the month, it also has a demonstration version of the new database service.
Anne Abrams, special projects director for the state library, said she recently went to the library in the tiny eastern Idaho town of Roberts, and found that the periodical collection consisted of just the magazines local folks had donated.
“That’s what students use when they need to do research.”
Abrams said that points to why Idaho needs the new service.
Said Simmons, “I see it being really helpful, first of all, to information-poor libraries, and we have a whole lot of them in our state. It provides their patrons with information that they couldn’t get locally.”
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