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Hey! What Happened to the Card Catalog?
Goodbye paper, Hello electricity!
In the early eighties (has it been that long since you've visited us?) card catalogs were replaced by computers. These new electronic catalogs are called OPACs--for Online Public Access Catalogs - - or WebPACs - - for Web-based
Public Access Catalogs. Is the electronic catalog, the OPAC or WebPac, better than the paper catalog? You bet! It's absolutely up to date, tracks which books are on the shelf or checked out, and lets you search by keywords in titles or subjects.
Best of all you don't have to be in a library to use the catalog. You can connect to the catalog from the Internet (which is where we are right now) and search for books, cassettes, videotapes and other goodies just as if you were sitting in a library.
Online library catalogs can deliver MORE than information about what's in a library's collection. Many library websites also include databases of library and branch hours or community events. Some libraries offer electronic databases via their websites. Two examples are:
- City of San Diego Public Library
Users with City Library Cards can search InfoTrac, an index of over 5000 magazines and journals, and read many full-text articles.
- If you are a student at San Diego State University, you can search a wide assortment of periodical indexes and databases online.
Online catalogs vary.
Each library sets up and shapes their own. Some systems have features that let users (we call you "patrons") reserve books, videos and other library materials. Many permit you to recommend books and other stuff for purchase or type in comments about what you like or don't like about the library.
Libraries are adding commercial products to their websites such as CD-ROMs of magazine and newspaper articles. So now you can do some of the research you used to do in the library from your home or office simply by connecting to the electronic catalog. Examples of these products are:
- Magazine and Newspaper CD-ROMs where you can search for an article and read the full text online.
- Health Information CD-ROMs about diseases and treatments.
- Government Document CD-ROMs with the full text of government reports, census, legislation.
Is this great or what?
It means you can do lots of research from your home or office, print or download what you need, and then get on with doing whatever you were doing when you realized you needed information!
Libraries pay thousands of dollars to feature commercial databases on their websites. These subscriptions require that access to the commercial product be limited to "registered borrowers," persons with a library card at that library. So when you spot an online catalog database you'd like to use, have your library card handy and enter the registration number when you're asked.