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Lessons Learned from FIPSE Projects II - September 1993

Ohio State University Libraries

The Gateway To Information

Purpose

Librarians are universally familiar with the novice researcher who, having been set a writing task, proceeds directly to the card catalog, jots down the titles available on his topic, checks out the ones he can find on the shelf, and considers his bibliographic effort complete. Periodical indexes, abstracting services, biographies, almanacs, government documents, and technical reports might as well not exist: the library's arsenal of information mystifies and intimidates most students, and only the adventurous or the experienced ever benefit from it.

The Gateway to Information, a microcomputer program designed and developed in the course of this project, guides students to find, evaluate and select the materials that meet their research needs. It functions as a front-end to the online library catalog and CD-ROM databases, guiding users to create a search strategy that includes print and computerized information. It enables users to access and integrate the content of online catalogs and CD-ROM databases, and encourages them to seek varied sources of information and to evaluate the information they find.

Innovative Features

Most libraries use computer technology to inform the public about general library services or to conduct specialized searches of commercial databases or of CD-ROM-based indexes. The libraries that teach all-encompassing search strategies do it with lectures and printed materials, and only a few offer an organized information-seeking approach that integrates different sources. The Gateway's uniqueness lies not only in its ability to accomplish the latter, but in that it guides the user to identify, locate, and evaluate the appropriate materials.

The Gateway provides access to 31 dictionaries; five general and 82 subject encyclopedias; 70 periodical indexes (including 16 on CD-ROM); 28 biographical sources; 35 book review indexes; and three general and 12 specialized statistical sources of local, national and international data. The Gateway presents all these sources on screens that have a common screen layout. Electronic resources are accessed by simple commands, thus making it unnecessary for the user to learn a number of different protocols.

The Gateway software includes Hypercard 2.0, MAC/TCP, and Mitem-View, and runs on Apple Macintosh NCX computers, which are connected to the campus computer network.

Evaluation

In addition to being observed and interviewed by staff, The Gateway users filled out over 2,000 evaluation forms over the course of the project. This feedback was used to modify and refine The Gateway, and the response, which had been positive from the beginning, grew more enthusiastic with each improvement. Students were particularly pleased with the ease of access and the abundance and appropriateness of information provided by The Gateway. No attempt was made to compare the quality of research carried out with the assistance of The Gateway to that accomplished by traditional means.

Project Impact

Originally designed for use by lower division undergraduates, with each refinement The Gateway attracted progressively more sophisticated researchers, so that at present 32% of its users are graduate students, faculty and staff. Faculty are generally pleased with the effects of The Gateway on student work. The program has attracted interest at other institutions, and conversations with various marketing companies are currently underway.

Recognition

The Gateway project has received two additional grants from the Department of Education's College Library Technology and Cooperation Grants Program, and one from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

Project Continuation

The Gateway was originally available at only four library workstations. By the end of the project these had grown to 24, and eventually all 60 public workstations at the University Libraries will have The Gateway capability. The narrative is constantly being expanded and revised, and special subject sections are being added, such as Communication, Business, Women's Studies, and University Archives. The University's continuing support of this project may justly be attributed to the enthusiastic reaction to The Gateway on the part of students, faculty and staff.

Available Information

Inquiries about The Gateway should be addressed to:

Virginia Tiefel
Office of Library User Education
The Ohio State University Library
1858 Neil Avenue Mall
Columbus, OH 43210
Telephone: (614) 292-6151

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Last Modified: 02/22/2006