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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

The Electronic Information Environment

Robert J. Brentrup

Margaret Otto has overseen the extensive development of electronic information systems in the Dartmouth College Library during her twenty-plus years as Librarian of the College. The Library has consistently been an early adopter of the latest electronic technology available to the library community. The focus at Dartmouth has always been to provide better service to patrons, better access to materials, and to streamline Library operations. Dartmouth's accomplishments are widely known.

In 1979, during the first year of Margaret's tenure, the Library began the development of an online catalog. The catalog project was a pioneering effort involving a partnership with BRS Inc. This new company spun off from the BRS online search service to commercialize the database software. This software was combined with a catalog interface developed by Dartmouth Library's Automation Department. The initial public version of the catalog was available in July 1980. In the following years the catalog was developed further and the entire collection of the library added to the database. All of the materials were included in the database by June 1987. The manual card catalog was maintained for several more years to allow the users to adapt to this change. The Baker card catalog was closed in 1991, though several other Dartmouth libraries had disposed of the cards even earlier.

The Innovative Interfaces acquisition system was purchased in July 1987. Innovative was a new company at this time. As the company grew and developed additional systems, they were deployed in the Library. The serials control system was purchased by the Library and deployed in July 1988. This improved the handling of journal materials. An automated circulation system was purchased from the SIRSI Company in September of 1988.

As the catalog was completed, the addition of other databases to the Library Online System (DCLOS) became the next project. A dictionary, an encyclopedia, and the works of Shakespeare were the first databases built. Grolier's Encyclopedia was added in September 1988. The Medline database was added in March of 1989, providing medical article abstracts. This was to be followed by a number of similar resources covering many fields of study.

In July of 1988 the Library and Computing Services jointly proposed the creation of DCIS, the Dartmouth College Information System. DCIS was envisioned as a 'dashboard' to locate and use catalogs, databases, and other electronic resources quickly and efficiently. It would take advantage of the personal computers introduced in 1983 along with the development of a campus-wide computer network to simplify access to a wide variety of information. In 1989 support from Apple Computer was obtained, and an ambitious project was begun.

After several years of development, the DCIS Online Library application was released in April 1991 and distributed on computers delivered to the incoming class in September. Online Library provided a standard interface for searching databases and eventually became a tool used daily by many people at Dartmouth. Later the DCIS Navigator application started the expansion of DCIS beyond the Library, collecting a number of campus-wide databases and information systems into one place. It grew to include applications in almost every area and office of the campus. The complementary skills of the Library and Computing Services were successfully leveraged in many projects.

Dartmouth's online systems next expanded to include remotely-mounted resources. Terminal emulator applications were linked to DCIS and DCLOS to incorporate information provided by other organizations, primarily other library catalog systems, though discipline-specific systems were starting to appear. This was followed in 1992 by other information delivery software, specifically WAIS and Gopher. Starting in 1994 the first World Wide Web browsers were being used to access remotely-supplied resources. During the same time period, the DCIS Navigator provided some novel self-maintenance features that could install and update the various software applications needed by users. Local development of databases was also on a fast track, and the electronic information collection expanded rapidly to several hundred databases.

The Dartmouth Library was also a pioneer in sharing electronic databases. In 1991 a partnership with Middlebury College to acquire jointly the MLA Bibliography database was created. Software developed with a federal grant provided the ability for campus-wide personnel directories maintained at each institution to control access to the database located at Dartmouth College. The DCIS applications were made available and used remotely at Middlebury. The partnership later expanded to include other institutions and other databases. Collaborative library projects and acquisitions of major resources continue today.

Another pivotal acquisition was the purchase of the electronic Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary provided data that needed a graphical interface to be properly used. In 1992 DCIS provided access to this SGML encoded data from personal computers with displays that replicated the use of fonts and graphics in the paper editions. More than twelve educational institutions installed DCIS on their campuses in order to use the OED. The SGML manipulation capabilities added to DCIS for the OED became the basis for a large local collection of full-text databases that allowed users to study classical texts in new ways.

Original cataloging and catalog maintenance were moved from the cataloging utilities and brought in-house in 1993 with further expansion of the Innovative system. This extensive project streamlined many of the processes occurring in the technical services departments of the libraries. The catalog database could now be updated weekly rather than monthly. Also books, serials, and materials on order could be searched in a single file.

The catalog database continued to be used to extend further the capabilities of the library systems. A linkage to the circulation system was added in 1993, allowing patrons to know if materials were on the shelf before they left their desk. The addition of the Wilson databases that same year greatly expanded electronic access to materials within and beyond Dartmouth's local collection. In 1995 index and abstracts databases were linked to the catalog database, allowing patrons to find out quickly if the book or journal they were interested in was part of the Library collection.

Support for the display of image data was the next addition to the systems in 1994. The first applications were catalogs of the College's Photographic Records and public catalogs for the collections of the Hood Museum. These systems have saved both users and staff members much effort in locating materials in these collections. A number of other academic applications were developed. The art slide database and databases used by the Classics Department were the most extensive.

The Library established a presence in whatever other information systems were in use at Dartmouth and on the Internet. The Library participated in the Dartmouth Public File, FTP, Gopher, and WWW servers. As the WWW exploded onto the Internet, Library systems have been swept along with it. The Library and most of its departments and committees have an extensive collection of Web-based materials and services that continue to expand at the present time.

A Web-based interface to DCIS was made available in 1996. This provided an alternative for users of non-Macintosh computers. DCIS on the Web has continued to evolve with the technology and underwent a substantial revision at the end of 1999. Since most other systems are now Web-based, having access to Dartmouth's resources on the Web is convenient for researchers. The first Dartmouth database of video data was delivered using the DCIS Web interface. Further enhancements allow easy and extensive customization of its appearance. New Kerberos authentication services were created in 1996 to control database use on the Web. These authentication services have enabled a wide variety of other Web-based applications including a proxy server for off-campus use of electronic journals.

A major expansion of support for medical information became available in 1997 with the introduction of the OVID system. Medline was expanded and other databases were added along with an extensive collection of full-text journals. Patron access to library circulation records was provided for the first time. Other Web-based services introduced at that time included the ability to request delivery of Dartmouth owned materials from the stacks and the Storage Library and other materials via interlibrary loan requests.

Access to electronic journals became a major project in the following years. Starting from an early pilot cataloging of a few electronic journals in 1996, the systems were developed to handle intelligently URL links and their maintenance. Thousands of electronic journals are now included in the catalog database.

The 1999 iteration of the DCIS program was a major revision that can now run on both Macintosh and Windows desktop computers. As new resources were added and the system was refined in a decade of use, DCIS has proven to be a remarkable tool for locating information.

There have been extraordinary changes in the Dartmouth Library in the past twenty years under Margaret Otto's leadership. The extensive traditional collection is now augmented by a wide variety of resources that are electronically available twenty-four hours a day and used extensively by Dartmouth students and faculty and by many others around the world on the Internet. The new Berry Library will provide better study spaces and equipment needed to make even better use of this virtual digital library. A solid foundation is in place for the continuing evolution of the Dartmouth Library in the information age.