Ontario libraries offer database feeds to e-resources

Libraries across Ontario are offering electronic access to health, business and general reference materials that aren’t normally in their stacks through a series of licensing agreements with several electronic database providers.

Knowledge Ontario, a program run out of the Ontario Library Association, announced Wednesday it is making available the full text of many magazines, newspapers, journals, essays, encyclopedias, dictionaries and eBooks. The content, which is being offered for free, can be downloaded directly from the Web sites of their local libraries.

The database providers participating in the project include Thomson Gale, which publishes under imprints such as Macmillan Reference USA, Charles Scribner’s Sons, Primary Source Microfilm and Scholarly Resources Inc. ProQuest Information and Learning, which serves academic, corporate, public and K-12 markets, is also involved, as is EBSCO, a provider of thousands of electronic journals.

Knowledge Ontario negotiated a two-year licence agreement with the three providers, according to its chair Peter Rogers. Financial details were not disclosed, but the money came from part of an $8 million grant provided by the Ontario government in Knowledge Ontario, Rogers said.

Although large libraries may already offer a considerable number of electronic publications and resources, smaller libraries need help in meeting the needs of their members, Rogers said. The Knowledge Ontario agreement also means the library will be able to provide content that has already been repurposed from paper formats.

“It may also make them look more carefully at digitizing Canadian content in the future,” he said. “In two years we’ll go back to them and say, ‘Here’s what was great, here’s what was missing.’” 

Local libraries that don’t have in-house IT expertise won’t face a significant overhaul to offer the resources, said Knowledge Ontario interim director Gerda Molson.

“They basically provide both Thomspon and EBSCO with their IP address and the companies themselves take it from there,” she said.

The rise of search engines and the Internet in general have made it easier for everyday users to seek out electronic content, but Rogers said Knowledge Ontario is not trying to compete with the Web.

“It’s just a growing understanding that all libraries are working together to provide a better service. Libraries have been in the electronic age long before the Internet,” he said. “This agreement also helps because it continues to keep the broadband issue on the table. The government has had a lot of discussion and struck up committees, but we may be able shortly to deliver health videos, or other educational information through video. The broadband has to be there.”

Knowledge Ontario is also sourcing agencies that will provide the free content through local libraries that have yet to set up their own Web site, Rogers said. Although some libraries have banks of PCs, he admitted that others may need to add some hardware.

“It won’t be part of our responsibility to provide those extra resources,” said Molson, since that kind of funding is usually determined at the local level.

About 500 library employees have already been trained on the use of the new database resources, Molson added. This was done through partnerships with local partners such as the City of Hamilton and Lakehead University, which provided access to computer labs. Tutorials on the use of the systems were developed through volunteers at a help desk at the library in Peterborough, Ont.

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