Silvia Pinzon MLIS
The Belize Electronic Resource and Development Library was the first specialized internet accessible library in the world. At the time of the original concept and installation, there was no literature or any other examples of internet electronic libraries to be found anywhere. There might have been in the scientific closed community, or the Pentagon, but there were none in the public accessible internet world. After the Belize Electronic library got started, some literature, University courses and seminars started in different parts of the USA on the subject.
Gradually the concept of electronic libraries has been taking hold and now some years later, the internet is full of electronic libraries, with more arriving each day.
College faculty and University faculty need to be aware of some things that we can pass along from our experience. Internet Electronic Libraries best serve specialized audiences. In the case of University and College libraries, these are usually curriculum support subjects, in support of courses and faculty teaching, in the institution involved.
The Belize Electronic Resource and Development Library at: http://AmbergrisCaye.com/BzLibrary was devised to serve the developmental needs of the small country of Belize. Belize is a poor agricultural country of small population. Earning capacity does not permit the purchase of books and in many cases higher education costs are also prohibitive. The library seeks to meet the requirements for information on specialized subjects of use to the country of Belize. Both in education, industry, economics and political education.
What this points out from experience, is that electronic libraries on the internet in general, need to be small and specialized. Information sources are simply too vast to cover everything.
From the experience with the Belize Electronic Library, we know that a library on the internet is not a static endeavor. You do not simply create it and leave it alone. An analogy is best used to indicate the differences between a book library and an electronic library. The major differences, are speed of information changes and the labor involved in carrying out the changes.
For example; an ordinary college campus library will purchase new books once a year, when the new budget comes in for the fiscal year. The process of buying books and cataloguing them and setting them on the shelves is done gradually over many months. But essentially for practical purposes, the replacement of information takes place once a year at budget time. The culling, or weeding of obsolete books takes place roughly every five years. Books themselves are usually one year out of date, before the library receives them. The publishing, writing, editing and printing process taking approximately one year.
In contrast, the electronic library works very much faster. An electronic library receives from various sources, such as; students, faculty, volunteers and other college staff, numerous URL's or http:// web addresses, on interesting related subjects. These come about, from internet searches for homeworks, resource compilations and essays and other things. The URL's ( equivalent to book titles), or information sources are coming in EVERY DAY. On average, the electronic library consumes labor by the librarian who is upkeeping the library, about 15 to 30 minutes of each and every working day. URL's must be screened as suitable and either rejected, or forwarded to a webmaster for insertion under appropriate information headings. This is an every day duty. The webmaster in turn, usually backlogs, or piles up the submissions by the librarian, for insertion in the electronic library once a week. A schedule has to be set for this task. Which can consume anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, once a week. We have found on the Belize Electronic Library over the years, that if the webmaster allows a backlog to build up for several weeks, the time needed to catch up on insertions will run to 12 or 18 hours of webmaster work. Something, most college webmasters are not time-budgeted to do. To neglect the upkeep of the electronic college library, is to have a poor library.
There is the matter of culling out obsolete material and dead links. This is a task best done on a monthly basis. It is not so time consuming, but is boring and usually takes an hour or two.
One can see, that an electronic library takes time, and the time must be budgeted by both a librarian daily and a webmaster weekly. The information is usually current. Or at the most one month old, versus book publishing, which is usually one year out- of-date by the time a college gets the book purchased, catalogued and installed on the shelves.
College and University Administrators who are in charge of webmasters and computer pages mounted for the institution, should also be aware, that webmasters in the institution usually do not have the time budgeted to do the job properly. The demands for other college departments, faculty, statistics, reports and other web pages, installation, maintainance leave many institution webmaster's hopelessly overworked and several months behind the desired requests for web page upkeep.
The question to keep in mind in this new electronic information age, is are you as an institution going to do the job properly, or are you going to do it sloppily? Is a job worth doing, going to be done properly, or if not, should you do it at all in this case?
Webmasters that are operating 2 or 3 months backlogged are obviously not going to be able to keep up with the demands of an institutional electronic library; which must be kept up daily and weekly. Can the institution better be served by not even starting an electronic library? Or should the budget for webmasters be doubled, or tripled? Should more webmasters be added? This is the information electronic age. To me the answer is obvious, but conditions and financial circumstances change from institution to institution. Each place must come to the accomodations each values most. To me, if a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing right. If you are going to use an electronic library, then you need to do it right. It may be that a review is in order on webmaster budgets, server abilities and other factors. Faculty are also going to expect "chatroom' and 'listserves" for homework for students, both in audio ( microphone and headset), keyboard( typing only) and in some cases nowadays with cam-corders. These also will be added services provided by an educational institution electronic library, particularly with those institutions operating many branch facilities. The local branches faculty requiring specific password access for their classroom students. The advantage to faculty, is control and the ability to continue classes and homework from a distance, even when on conferences a thousand miles away, via a hotel telephone and complimentry ISP with a laptop. Most of these features are already being offered by an estimated 16% of USA Colleges and Universities today. The list of these services is growing exponentially.