The University Record, September 14, 1992

ULibrary system puts wealth of knowledge at your fingertips

By Kate Kellogg
News and Information Services

Want to know how many white five-year-old males live in Ann Arbor or the number of female Pacific Islanders between ages 40–44 in Bay County—without thumbing through massive U.S. Census texts? Want the latest median sales price of new houses sold last month? Want instant information on economic indicators or employment statistics broken down by city?

All that information and much more is now available through the new ULibrary system, a service based on the Gopher software developed at the University of Minnesota. (Hence, the nickname Gopher, for the other U-M’s mascot.) Anyone with access to the campus network can enter the Gopher system.

ULibrary helps even inexperienced computer users navigate the Internet, the vast highway of electronic information networks that is rapidly expanding throughout the world. ULibrary functions as an easy-to-use roadmap by identifying and linking users to selected Internet resources, explains Wendy P. Lougee, head of the Graduate Library.

“The ULibrary system enables anyone to cruise the Internet to see what’s available,” Lougee says. “It also allows us to organize information available on the Internet and to create new files of useful information.”

Through ULibrary U-M users can brouse many on-line library catalogs around the world and tap into hundreds of data bases via ULibrary’s simple instructions. ULibrary, alone, contains a growing store of primary information—including the full texts of five electronic journals, all major documents drafted at last June’s Earth Summit Conference, 1990 Census data for Michigan, and hundreds of economic statistics files.

Soon, ULibrary users can read breaking world news 24 hours a day—without touching that messy newsprint. The UPI newswire will be on ULibrary by late September and accessible to the U-M and Ann Arbor communities. The newswire provides coverage of world and national events, sports, syndicated columns and financial news.

“Although ULibrary’s database currently emphasizes the social sciences and humanities, we’re evaluating additional resources and eventually hope to incorporate all disciplines,” Lougee says.

Most of the information on ULibrary also is accessible to users of other “gophers,” including a growing number of universities across the country. The U-M library already has received much positive feedback from people at other institutions about ULibrary’s organization and ease of access and the quality of information on it, Lougee says.

U-M users, in turn, are finding ULibrary a great asset to their research. “ULibrary lets the scholar browse an immense range of library catalogs, both in North America and abroad,” notes Richard W. Bailey, professor of English. “Electronic workstations have thus gained another powerful tool—in this case, one that could not be duplicated by any other technology.”

The ULibrary system can even put scholars with similar interests in touch with each other, as well as their publications. James A. Winn, director of the Institute for the Humanities, decided to test the new system by signing on to several British libraries and looking for his most recent book. He found a library in Bristol, where the book had been bought, cataloged and checked out for an extended period. Since the opening screen listed faculty borrowing privileges as a year—but only three weeks for students—Winn deduced that the book was in the hands of a young Dryden scholar who teaches there.

“I printed off the screen,” Winn said, “and sent him a letter asking how he was enjoying the book, adding that Big Brother was watching!”

Another U-M offshoot of Gopher, the GOpherBlue system compiled by the Information Technology Division, provides a constantly updated encapsulation of the University and community. The database includes a faculty, staff and student locator; local weather; U-M employment opportunities (with full text of postings); and a guide to U-M services, organizations and resources.

Not only can users read information, accessible via gophers, they also can have it. Any part of a screenload can be sent to an electronic mailbox at any time during a gopher session.