Well Connected

Drexel plays host to the Internet Public Library.

By Frank Rubino
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 17, 2007

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Meet the researchers: Eileen Abels (from left), Cathay Crosby and manager of digital collections Michael Galloway help keep the IPL running.

Probably the first thing you should know about Drexel's Internet Public Library (IPL) is that, naturally, it's virtual. Probably the second thing you should know is that it isn't being fine-tuned to replace the four physical libraries on campus.

"Oh no, not at all," says Cathay Crosby, the IPL's assistant director of user services, adding that even a techie like herself appreciates that libraries of the brick and mortar variety have historically doubled as study halls and gathering points.

"People are still people," Crosby reassures. "People need to be together."

That's nice to hear.

But it's also nice to know that the IPL (www.ipl.org), born in 1995 at the University of Michigan and relocated to Drexel's iSchool (College of Information Science and Technology) in January, is a practical and fun website floating in cyberspace just to make you smarter.

It's also a training ground for aspiring librarians whose craft--like most everything else on earth--will become increasingly digital over the course of their career. But more about them later.

Visiting the IPL (which is getting nearly a million hits a month) is free, and you needn't register to access its more than 40,000 links to authoritative, reliable digital collections and exhibits covering seemingly every topic from accounting to zoology.

The words "authoritative" and "reliable," of course, distinguish what you'll find here from a lot of the stuff that pops up when you enter a few terms into a search engine.

"When you do a Google search or any of your other searches," explains Eileen Abels, master's program director at Drexel's iSchool, "you get a bunch of responses back, and you have to decide, 'Is this good information? Should I use this information?' We've done that for you."

Just as "real" libraries scrutinize material before placing it on their shelves.

Abels hastens to reiterate that the IPL wasn't created to supplant "real" libraries--on college campuses or elsewhere. Moreover, it doesn't seek to step on their toes.

"Libraries share and collaborate, so competition isn't really there," adds Crosby, a Seattle native. "Libraries look at each other as being on the same team. It's nice to work in that environment."

The IPL's librarians have gone a long way toward replicating many services offered nowadays by their conventional counterparts.

The IPL's question-answering service, roughly similar to the state's Office of Commonwealth Libraries' 24/7 live chat reference desk (www.askherepa.org), provides a case in point.

Employing an email format, it's a cinch to use. You just click on the IPL's "Ask a Question" link, provide your name, email address and deadline plus a smidgen of background info, type your interrogative, and click on "Submit Question."

Then you wait. But not for very long.

A PW reporter submitted a question last week concerning prevailing opinions on the reliability of lie-detector test results.

Inside of 24 hours, a friendly email provided seven links to resources that included the National Academy of Sciences' book-length report on the polygraph and lie detection; the American Psychological Association's official policy on polygraphs; and a slew of articles and essays compiled by the Federation of American Scientists.

That email, by the way, came courtesy of one of the IPL's more than 500 student volunteers, who attend Drexel, Michigan, Florida State or any of eight other IPL-collaborating universities.

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