An Explosion in Technology

While the State Library looked fondly back on its past, the future – especially technology – was being embraced by the library as never before. One innovative use of technology was the growth of satellite conferences. These conferences were broadcast via satellite as a state-of-the-art way for the library to communicate with systems, libraries, and individuals regarding the latest information in education, training, and current library issues. This free format enabled viewers to call in with questions for the hosts, which usually included State Library staff and expert panelists. Videos of each teleconference were available by interlibrary loan through the systems and the State Library. The first teleconference was held in November 1992 and quickly grew into a popular series. On the 10th anniversary of the satellite teleconference program, the State Library celebrated with a 50th presentation on Nov. 20, 2002. Nearly 1,000 viewers at 82 locations in 23 states registered to view the program, which was broadcast in 31 locations in Illinois as well as by Webcast on the Secretary of State website. Over 10,000 people viewed State Library teleconferences during the program’s first decade.975

However, the implementation of technology was not always smooth, in part due to human obstruction. A few technology projects, such as zILLANE, failed in their objectives. The final report of that project, which examined the systems’ consortium catalogs and sought to find improvements to maximize both technology and human practices, was issued in October 2001 with a request for feedback. The report was not well received by the systems. But the majority of technology programs during this era were successful, as the State Library, the systems, and individual libraries have shown a great willingness to embrace technology. As a result, Illinois has become a national leader in the utilization of library automation.976

While technology can provide greater access to immense amounts of information, it also presents new hazards. One problem is the potential loss of information that can result from periodic changes and updates in websites. The ongoing goal is to provide as much public information as possible, with no loss. The Preserving Electronic Publications (PEP) program of 2002 sought to do just that. Funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, PEP “harvested” State of Illinois websites in serving as a “safety net” to protect against the loss of public information from changes online. The following year, the PEP project supplied the Reference Unit of the State Library with official state web pages on a DVD. This ensured that the change of administrations and technology updates would not wipe out access to any public information posted on the websites by previous administrations.977

But technology was also providing some of the most helpful library tools for Illinois users to date. Many of these tools were updates of earlier models, such as FirstSearch. Provided by OCLC and initially funded by Live & Learn, FirstSearch offered online access to 40 databases, including the world’s largest database of information about books and which libraries owned them. FirstSearch also allowed users to view articles online, e-mail them to an Internet address, or purchase them from suppliers. That database, which evolved into WorldCat (short for World Catalog), revolutionized circulation and interlibrary loan as it became even easier to locate materials not only in Illinois libraries but nationwide. In late 1994, then-Secretary George Ryan announced that $375,000 in grants would be used to give 2,900 public, academic, school, and special libraries access to FirstSearch.978

As the decade neared an end, Illinois library users gained two more digital tools, making library service easier still. Find-It! Illinois was created as the State Library’s “statewide digital library.” Convenience was the key to Find-It! Illinois. Before, library users looking for information from state websites had to search through an array of sites, usually one after the other. Locating information proved a great challenge. With Find-It! Illinois, a wide variety of state information resources were brought together on one web page, which reduced search time and effort. Find-It! was introduced in a gala celebration at Navy Pier in Chicago on Oct. 19, 1999.979

Find-It! Illinois was the project of Anne Craig, the library’s assistant director for Automation and Technology. Craig said the motivation for Find-It! Illinois was simple.

“In the past, there were a lot of servers carrying state information, and it wasn’t easy to locate what was needed. So we set out to make it easier for library patrons to find information, especially on government, so they didn’t have to go through site after site. Find-It! Illinois coraled everything together under one site, which made things much quicker and easier for library users.”980

Find-It! Illinois also gave access to the Virtual Illinois Catalog (VIC), which was also introduced on Oct. 19, 1999. As its name implied, VIC was an electronic catalog of over 40 million materials held by hundreds of libraries across Illinois. The catalog was developed in partnership by the State Library and the systems. VIC was a refinement of the online catalogs that had served Illinois library patrons over the previous two decades and required mere seconds to locate needed titles. Usage of VIC immediately proved popular, as over 95,000 searches were made on VIC in the first week after its introduction. Within a few years, VIC was supplanted by a revamped FirstSearch program that included WorldCat, the shortened name for a sweeping union catalog that includes holdings from libraries both around the nation and worldwide.981

Find-It! Illinois was just the beginning for Craig, who is credited with setting up the State Library’s digital imaging unit. Among the components is the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA), which is a collection of historic Illinois materials that have been scanned and placed on the Internet for universal usage. The IDA offers fingertip access to text, photos, letters, and illustrations on such topics as military, political, social, and economic history of Illinois. These collections are held not only by the State Library and Illinois State Archives but also by historic and cultural museums and societies statewide. One example of these archival items is the Illinois Blue Book, a comprehensive resource on Illinois state government produced by the Office of the Secretary of State. Every page of every edition of the Blue Book dating back to1900 – a total of more than 41,000 copy pages – was posted on the Illinois Digital Archives in the summer of 2007. The Automation and Technology Division of the State Library spent nearly 18 months digitizing all the Blue Books.982

In 2000, the Illinois Digital Archives was placed on Find-It! Illinois along with the Talking Book and Braille Service. A database on Illinois authors, maintained by the Illinois Center for the Book, was also added. The latter allows library users to access information on Illinois literary figures, including their writings, dates of publication, and personal information.983

Another feature of State Library digitization is ELI, which Craig considers “a phone book for the world.” Added in 2002, ELI, which stands for “Every Library in Illinois,” includes mailing, telephone, and e-mail contacts for each library in Illinois – public, academic, school, and special – along with lists of leading personnel at each library. In addition, users may access contact information for all Illinois government and General Assembly officials through ELI, as well as OCLC and delivery codes. Most relevant information about Illinois libraries can be found at ELI, another method of quick and easy access at the fingertips of Illinois library users. The ELI web page received over 12.3 million hits in just over a year in 2006-07. Another State Library initiative was Web Junction, a clearinghouse of library-related information that again made it quick and easy for Illinois library users to find what they were looking for.984

In August 2004, the development of statewide union catalogs took a bold new step with introduction of the Statewide Illinois Library Catalog (SILC). SILC combined all library holdings into a single entry with easy access not only to the collections of Illinois libraries but also to local, regional, or global resources. Creating SILC was a sweeping effort in itself, as the State Library and the systems spent much time in enhancing and streamlining existing databases to pave the way for SILC while working closely with OCLC to develop a workable product. With six interface languages, including Spanish, users could, with no login, access high-quality records and all types of media within seconds. SILC could be accessed through First-Search and, if the information was not found, could be expanded into WorldCat.985

Ask?Away was launched in April 2006 as a roundtheclock virtual reference tool for Internet users. Online library patrons can chat live, instant message, or e-mail questions to librarians free of charge at any time of the day. Ask?Away reflected the growing on-demand nature of library service fed by instant online access. Librarians from over 200 Illinois multitype libraries and regional systems participated in Ask?Away, which was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences and jointly administered by the Illinois State Library and Wisconsin Library Services. The Illinois version also used the 24/7 Reference Consortium, a collection of hundreds of reference librarians across the country and around the world, available 24 hours a day, to provide reference services. In its first year, over 23,000 users accessed Ask?Away. A study showed that in March 2007, 230 participating Illinois libraries fielded 1,562 e-mail questions and 2,496 chat sessions. Ask?Away followed the OCLC Question Point Pilot Project, launched in 2002, which linked Illinois libraries in a “collaborative virtual reference service” with e-mail and electronic chats.986