The "Virtual Library" has become a popular term, but with little agreement on the exact definition. The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) defines it as its state-of-the-art learning lab for new technology. The Library has designed and implemented a computer learning lab for the whole community and to provide an environment that will showcase the latest computer technology. A variety of services and features are being offered to visitors to the Virtual Library: high performance equipment, personal productivity applications, multimedia CD-ROMs, workshops, and Internet access.
At the present time, there are 16 stations in operation: when fully equipped, the Virtual Library will house 20 high performance workstations. Half of the stations are Macintosh Power PCs and the other half are Gateway Pentiums. By including both of the most popular platforms, patrons are provided the opportunity to explore the different qualities of each. All stations include 16MB of RAM, doublespeed CD-ROM drives, and full multimedia capability. The workstations are part of the Virtual Library LAN and connect to two file servers, 29 network CD-ROM drives, and to the Library's T1 connection to the Internet. Currently, all stations feed to one Hewlett-Packard black and white laser printer. Future plans include the addition of a color printer.
Each of the workstations is equipped with software applications that can be used for personal productivity. Integrated programs that include word processing, spreadsheet, and database in the same applications offer patrons an easy, flexible way to write a paper or resume, make a newsletter, develop mailings, or do any number of similar projects. Microsoft Works is available on the Gateway workstations, while Claris Works is installed on all the Macintosh stations.
Users can find additional software packages on the Gateways: Microsoft Office which includes Work for Windows, Excel, and Access; Corel Draw 4; Microsoft Publisher and HiJaak Graphics Suite.
Two of the workstations, both Macintoshes are connected to scanners that will make it possible to digitize images. One of the scanners is black and white; the other is color. Adobe PhotoShop is installed on the workstation with the color scanner, so users have the ability to edit and manipulate their images. At this time, images must be saved to a floppy disk or printed to a black and white laser printer.
The Library also has developed a multimedia CD-ROM collection. Previously, only a very few multimedia titles were available to patrons, typically encyclopedias offered as reference material. Now patrons can find a collection of over 130 enrichment titles to explore. These programs combine photographs, video, sound, and text to create a new dimension to the study of subjects that range from science to history to music to art. The Library owns at least two copies of each title; one copy remains in the Virtual Library for use there by patrons; a second copy is available for circulation so that patrons who own computers with CD-ROM drives can check them out. Circulating CD-ROMs can be checked out for three weeks, but only two titles can be borrowed at a time. Holds are not yet allowed until the collection size increases. The Library's CD-ROM holdings can be found in the Dynix public access catalog. Terminals are available in all branches or can be reached via dial-in access.
All workstations provide direct Internet access through a choice of two graphical interfaces: Mosaic or Netscape. Both allow users to explore the resources of the Internet by browsing via hypertext links or by entering specific location addresses. Users can view graphics and videos, listen to audio files, and download software.
Computers are available for ages twelve and up. Children under twelve may use computers located in the Children's Department. The first five pages printed each day to a patron are free. Additional pages are five cents each. Only Library supplied paper may be used. For security reasons, no file management functions (such as copying files from one floppy disk to another, or deleting files from a floppy) can be performed by patrons or staff.
Documents or files can be saved to the hard disk or network server. Patrons are asked to save to a floppy or print out their work each day. Formatted floppy disks may be purchased at the Virtual Library. Staff is available to help patrons in the use of the equipment and most applications at all times. Certain applications (i.e., scanning, imaging, mapping, etc.) require extensive training which cannot be provided on demand. Patrons wishing to use complex applications will need to first attend one of the free workshops which the Virtual Library offers.
To help patrons plan their computing needs, one half of the workstations are available for reservations. Two hour time slots can be reserved in advance. Reservations will be held for fifteen minutes past the time specified and then will be given to those waiting. The remaining stations will be available in one hour time slots on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Virtual Library also maintains a collection of the most current computer books and periodicals. Most of the books and some of the periodicals are available to be checked out.
[Contact: Rich Rosenthal, Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 310 N. Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC (704) 336-2725; FAX (704) 384-5058.]