The University Record, May 22, 1995

IPL is new stop on information superhighway

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

The School of Information and Library Studies has opened the world's first Internet Public Library (IPL), making library services free and available to patrons around the world.

"The IPL uses the connecting power of the Internet to link users and service providers in exciting new configurations, extending far beyond the walls of traditional public libraries to secure the best services for its global network of users," says Joseph Janes, assistant professor of information and library studies. "The IPL is prepared to provide essential library services to a target audience estimated to number a quarter of the entire American population by the end of the century."

The IPL was created by graduate students as part of their course work under the direction of Janes and "demonstrates the use of rapidly changing technology to reinvent library service delivery for a 21st-century audience."

Users will find the IPL much like their town library, but with a new face on some familiar services. "The IPL offers an online story hour and opportunities to talk with noted children's book authors; the chance to have everyday reference questions referred to an international network of subject specialists and get answers in real time; and a place for librarians to find out how to get on and take advantage of the information superhighway," says Janes.

The user, once determining which of the services (among them, reference, youth and librarian services) would be most useful, can tour through various data base and home page offerings, ultimately reaching the information sought.

For example, should one want information about the planet Venus, selecting the IPL's "reference" category would be the first step. Under reference, which lists a wide variety of subjects ranging from government and law to entertainment, health and social issues, selecting science would be the second step. Selecting "astronomy" as the specific subject under the science heading will lead to a number of choices, among which is NASA's home page and information about Venus.

Several thousand people a day are now "walking through the doors" of the IPL. Some just look around and leave. But others use the tools available to find the information they need. "We quickly came to see that our audience was based not only in Tawas, Muskegon and Menominee in Michigan, but in Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand as well," adds Janes. "Our audience is composed not only of other librarians, but members of the business community, school children, university students and foreign governments as well."

The IPL is a World Wide Web resource and can be reached at: http://ipl.sils.umich.edu/. For additional information about the IPL through e-mail, write to ipl.comm@umich.edu.