Over the course of the past year or so, I have been writing about the trend toward the use of the Internet and Web-based applications. This trend pervades all aspects of the computer industry, and a great number of noncomputer-related businesses offers products and services on the Web. The model of computing that evolved on the Internet has even made its way into the internal networks of many organizations, hence the term intranets that has recently entered the vocabulary of computer literature.
The Internet has become an integral part of library computing. The World Wide Web stands as the primary global resource for sharing information. Many libraries now rely on the Internet for many services critical to their operation. Resources for reference services, cataloging utilities, and professional communication all depend on the Internet. We have observed that many library automation systems now include the capability for access to the library catalog from Web browsers.
Once libraries bring the Internet into their daily operation, its reliability, stability, and availability become crucial. Another recent trend, unfortunately, involves an increasing number of technical problems and periods of overload on the Internet. The Internet certainly has become a victim of its own success. The major Internet service providers continue to invest tremendous resources in creating the infrastructure necessary to sustain the current level of network traffic and to plan for anticipated growth. But the pace of the increase in Internet traffic continues to outpace the development of the network's capacity.
Recent experience at my own institution bears out this concern. The libraries on campus rely on many commercial information services delivered over the Internet, including OCLC's FirstSearch, UMI's ProQuest Direct, Dow Jones News Retrieval service, Lexis/Nexis, and Britannica Online, as well as many other freely available resources on the Web. At the same time, we have begun to experience an increasing number of incidents where our connection to the Internet either fails completely or experiences a dramatic loss of performance. These disruptions have an immediate impact on the libraries and the rest of the campus community. Although the university is taking dramatic measures to address this problem, both in the short and longer term, I question whether adequate bandwidth will ever be available.
It seems that the Internet's bandwidth capabilities remain a notch behind current demand. Despite the current state of the Internet, I remain fairly optimistic about its future. Although the costs will be high, I believe that Internet service providers and the individuals and organizations that use the Internet are united in their efforts to build the network infrastructure required for current and future needs. Although I don't believe that Internet users will ever experience spare capacity, there is reason to believe that the supply and demand for bandwidth will eventually equalize. I see no turning back on the road toward increased dependence on the Internet. Libraries and other organizations whose livelihood depends on the Internet need to carefully assess their requirements for bandwidth and reliability and plan their Internet access strategy accordingly.