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Software to Ease Access for O.C. Library Users

New iBistro program will let patrons tap databases and reference works, as well as the card catalog, the Internet and periodicals.

June 30, 2003|Denise M. Bonilla | Times Staff Writer

It wasn't long ago that library research in Orange County meant dusty old card catalog drawers, meandering treks through crowded aisles and balky computers prone to freezing at any moment.

Starting today, library patrons will need only a few computer keystrokes to have all the reference books, periodicals and Web pages they desire right in front of them.

The county library system is launching iBistro, an electronic library system that officials said will be more extensive and much more user-friendly than card catalogs.

"The difference between what patrons are seeing today and what they'll see on Monday is mind-boggling," said county Librarian John Adams.

In addition to Web-quality graphics and photos, iBistro will give library patrons access to five databases, including 900 periodicals, and display full text and annotations. Adams said iBistro combines three search functions: reference, periodical and the Internet. Search results will include not only those subjects directly related to the desired information, but also a list of suggested reading topics.

When looking at a particular book, users will get a summary, a jacket photo and, depending on the book, other information, including author biographies, reviews and excerpts. Patrons can find out which branches have the book and place a hold on it.

Users also will be able to personalize their accounts with favorite subjects and authors. When the library receives a new book that matches a user's interests, a message is sent out.

iBistro will replace Dynix, a text-based system that is 10 years old.

"The architecture was obsolete and antiquated," Adams said. "The new [system] will operate more reliably and faster."

The new system cost $1.2 million, which Adams said was paid for with reserve funds the library accumulated over the last four years. iBistro will be available on all 500 public computers in the county's 30 branches. Those with library cards will also have full access from home or work. Those without can still use the system but will not have access to the library's databases.

iBistro is a product of the Sirsi Corp., a library technology company based in Huntsville, Ala.

"We heard from library users that they wanted to see the same sort of content that they saw on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com," said Sirsi marketing director Tom Gates. "People were demanding more out of their online catalog."

The company created iBistro, a marriage between traditional libraries and Internet technology that would serve as a sort of electronic library.

"We wanted to create a place that was friendly, easygoing, where you would want to sit down with a newspaper and coffee," Gates said.

More than 350 library systems worldwide are using iBistro, Gates said. For some, he said, iBistro has increased catalog usage 25% to 30%.

Whittier's public library system has had iBistro since October, and reference librarian Marsha Weeks said the response has been positive.

"A lot of times, they may have seen a book in the store, and they may not know the author or title," she said. "But when they're browsing [iBistro] and see the cover, it helps them figure out that that's the book they want."

Though iBistro is touted as user-friendly with help menus, informational handouts will be available at all branch libraries.

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