April 2000


Increasingly electronic library expands research services

by Bob Conrad

With the hallway of Building 4500-North running through the heart of it, staff, guests and visitors can’t help but be aware of Central Research Library as they enter the Laboratory. What many may not realize is the extent to which the ORNL Library now extends into every office at ORNL. Researchers no longer have to go to the Library to access most of the information and services essential to their research.

“When ORNL Research Libraries became part of ORNL in 1996, ORNL made it clear to us that they wanted the library at the desktop,” says library director Randy Hoffman. With this mandate, the library has aggressively pursued the vision of an electronic library. As a result, researchers are relying on the library more than ever to find and retrieve the information they need electronically.

The library has been investing in electronic information since the mid-1990s, embracing the Web and using it to push information and services to the researcher’s desktop. Although many vendors were slow to embrace the Internet, the library has worked with them to make the journals and databases that researchers need available on the Web.

Some researchers were initially hesitant about electronic access, preferring the hard copy. Not Corporate Fellow Eli Greenbaum.

“I love it. I love every aspect of electronic information,” says Greenbaum. “It has taken a lot of the tedium out of finding information.”

Corporate Fellows Council Chair Tom Wilbanks identifies library activities as one of two overhead activities that should be spared cost-cutting (the other is LDRD and seed money).

ORNL researchers now conduct more than 9,000 searches a month in Science Citation Index, the most popular of the many science and technology databases accessible from the library home page.

Even more popular than electronic databases has been the addition of significant numbers of electronic journals. The library went from193 electronic journal titles in 1998 to more than 950 electronic journals today. Through participation in a DOE library consortium, the library was able to add 360 new Elsevier electronic journals, the first significant addition to the journal collection in many years. Library statistics indicate researchers have been browsing 6,000 articles and downloading 2,000 articles a month from Elsevier alone.

Researchers have enthusiastically embraced the electronic library. Greenbaum says, “The Internet has made the library itself so much easier to use.” Now rather than type cards, he can request library materials, order books or place document delivery requests for journal articles from the library’s home page. ORNL staff can also post questions electronically to reference librarians or request literature searches without leaving their offices. To help researchers navigate the maze of the Web, Library staff have developed subject-oriented gateways to Web information; the gateway pages provide access to reference materials, news resources and many other links.

The librarian’s role also has changed dramatically in the past few years. “Rather than being a physical location where print documents are stored for browsing by the staff, the library has evolved into a group of skilled people who help the staff access a far larger body of literature and other information,” says Wilbanks. “Library staff have become advisors, mentors and facilitators for the research staff as researchers learn to operate from their desktops in the new information environment.”

Many researchers are not eager to see the physical library disappear. It’s not likely to happen any time soon. Until publishers work out access to archival collections, the ORNL library, like most other libraries, continues to receive paper copies of most subscriptions. The library also has extensive book and report collections at Central Research Library and in the four satellite libraries.

As part of National Library Week, April 9–15, the ORNL Research Libraries are implementing a new home page. The library staff has worked with ORNL researchers to design a page that will make it easier to take advantage of library resources and services.

The page’s slogan,“Creativity, Innovation and Discovery,” reflects the library staff’s pride in their support for research activities at ORNL.

Bob Conrad works in the Central Research Library. The library’s internal Website is at www-internal.ornl.gov/Library/library-home.html