On Tuesday, November 14, The New York Public Library inaugurated LEO (Library Entrance Online), the world's largest public library information system and network. LEO, named with reference to the famed marble lions which have long symbolized NYPL, is a new technologically advanced, fully integrated online system that links users in every branch to the Library's catalogs, to a vast collection of databases, and even to the World Wide Web on the Internet.
Dr. Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library, said, "The completion of the LEO system marks an important goal for us as we move into the 21st century, and is one of the most important developments for the Library in the provision of access for its patrons since its founding 100 years ago. As information becomes increasingly synonymous with power, access to technology for the general population becomes more and more crucial. LEO offers users a high speed on-ramp to the realms of electronic knowledge, at no charge."
Planned as one of the high points of The New York Public Library's Centennial year, LEO will transform the way New Yorkers use their libraries. It represents the next significant step in the Library's strategy of harnessing new developments in technology to the advantage of library patrons, and to provide a leadership role for all libraries into the 21st century. From the smallest branches, such as Macomb's Bridge in Harlem or South Beach on Staten Island, a user can now look up a book, and learn not only whether any branch has the item, but whether it is on the shelf at a given time.
City capital funding for the $9 million project was provided in the amount of $7,047,000 by the City of New York: $1.7 million from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, $2.35 million from Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, $2.3 million from Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, and $700,000 from Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari. In addition the City Council provided $500,000 for the purchase of microcomputers in the branches. $1.9 million was received from the State of New York, and from other funds.
Developed over the past several years by Ameritech Library Services, LEO's systems integration and Dynix software applications represent a massive undertaking that has required large numbers of programming, engineering, and communications specialists to solve the complex problems inherent in the installation of a project of this size.
"What makes LEO unique among public libraries is the immense size of the project, its large databases, and its capacity for 2,000 simultaneous users," said Susan B. Harrison, Associate Director for Technical and Computer Services, whose department oversaw the implementation of the system, with the support of LIONS, the Library's data center. "A recent study showed that only 9% of America's public libraries offer users direct access to the Internet, and we are pleased to join that group."
What LEO Offers
In addition to offering electronic access to NYPL catalogs, and the catalogs of many other libraries around the nation-including the Queens Borough Public Library and the Library of Congress-LEO provides a remarkable range of databases for a patron to browse online. A user can find indexes to 2,600 periodicals, full text articles from more than 1,000, and can even take home a printed copy. Each branch will offer workstations equipped with easy-to-use browsing software for searching Internet databases. For example, in a few seconds one could pull up an article from this week's Time magazine or from a 1989 Bulletin of Economic Research. Someone worried about Alzheimer's disease may check out symptoms and the latest treatments on NOAH, the New York Online Access to Health database, developed with Federal funds by a consortium that includes NYPL, City University (CUNY), the New York Academy of Medicine, and the New York Metropolitan and Resources Agency.
Children, too, will find a whole new world in LEO. Kid's Catalog, available in every children's room, allows children with limited reading skills to find books for themselves by clicking colorful icons on a personal computer screen. For example, a child looking for books about butterflies clicks on icons for science, then on insects, then again on a butterfly, which supplies a list of related books. Again, the child can learn if her selection is currently available in her own branch or in another.
Monochrome terminals display catalog and database information, but each branch will have at least two personal computers with color monitors, networked for public use. Larger branches, such as the Mid-Manhattan Library and the three borough centers-the Donnell Library Center on West 53rd Street, Fordham Library Center in the Bronx, and St. George Library Center on Staten Island-have more PCs available.
The LEO system is extraordinarily simple to use. However, librarians and other staff will be on hand to guide first-time users who might be wary of this new technology. Both the monochrome terminals and the personal computers have simple on-screen directions to guide the user seamlessly though a range of choices. Recently, within twenty minutes of installation, a bank of new terminals at a test site was occupied by dozens of curious patrons successfully finding their way to needed materials in a fraction of the time previously required. The Internet may be accessed by clicking on a listed choice to begin a search. Dial-in-service to LEO from a home computer equipped with a modem is not available at present, but will be offered at a future date.
LEO will greatly enhance the speed and efficiency of many administrative tasks. Five hundred additional terminals will be placed at loan desks and in offices to be used by Library staff. These will be used to process all lending check-in and -out functions for more than eleven million circulating items every year. They will also provide statistical data and reports that will enable the Library to analyze borrowing patterns, trends, and to compute work flow. In addition, cataloging and acquisitions activities will be funneled through LEO, including the processing of 10,000 subscriptions to periodicals (involving 250,000 individual subscription copies each year).