This virtual library is another form of internal corporate portal, one that Stephanie Boyd, associate director of Bell’s Information Resource Centre, sees continuing to grow. The virtual library means increased customer satisfaction, thanks to instant access from a desktop browser. Cost savings aren’t a significant factor, Boyd says, though moving to electronic documents does free some floor space. The real goal is customer satisfaction.
The form of virtual libraries is evolving, she notes. At first, online libraries were modeled on physical ones, with documents organized the same way and sites offering virtual tours of an imagined physical layout.
Now, corporate librarians are recognizing that what their patrons want is the ability to search for information without worrying about what kind of publication it appears in, so a single search should retrieve results from periodicals, research reports and other available sources.
Boyd says she has also learned that a virtual library’s search capabilities must meet expectations shaped by Web search engines like Google, which allow users to enter free-form searches — just a bunch of words — and get results.
Targeted searches aren’t the only way to look at information, though, so Bell’s virtual library also offers the ability to browse through lists of available material. The portal is personalized to show each user the items he or she chooses, and the information centre sends weekly e-mails to alert people to new materials in their areas of interest. Bell employees can also use the virtual library portal to submit inquiries for Information Resource Centre staff to answer.
There is increasing demand for mobile access, and Boyd says her group is studying ways to make the virtual library available from handheld devices.
Payment arrangements with publishers are still somewhat tricky, Boyd says.
“It’s not as standardized as the paper world,” she says. “If you go to a bookstore to buy a book, there’s a price on the back.” But unlike physical books, electronic information is licensed, and not sold outright.

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