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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 9, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

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Janie Hermann knows databases. She even met her

husband through a database, albeit indirectly. Information services

librarian at the Princeton Public Library, Hermann spends a good deal

of her time thinking up, creating, and leading tech instruction

programs.

She is responsible for the library’s Tuesday Technology Talks, which

feature experts speaking on everything from how to get the most out

of a Palm Pilot to how to use PowerPoint.

A newer program is Data Bytes, a once-a-month, lunchtime, brown bag

series that aims to show attendees how to mine the library’s 50

databases.

For while the Internet is free to anyone with a place to connect to

it, "you have to pay for the good stuff, the premium stuff,"

says Hermann. It’s like television, she offers as an analogy. If you

have a set, you can get local stations, but the Weather Channel, the

Food Network, and Nickelodeon can only be accessed by those who pay

a cable fee. A ticket to catch the Sopranos on HBO or Chip and Dale

on the Disney Channel costs even more.

Subscription Internet databases are so pricey that few consumers or

small businesses sign up, but most of the best are available free

at the Princeton library, and at other area libraries too. In

addition,

library card holders can now access many of the databases from their

home or office computers.

On Thursday, October 10, at 1 p.m. Data Bytes addresses "Facts

on File and Facts.com" at the library’s temporary home in the

Princeton Shopping Center. No charge. Call 609-924-9529. Jane

Brown,

one of Hermann’s colleagues, leads this session.

Hermann is from Canada; her accent is a dead giveaway. A graduate

of Queens’ College, where she earned degrees in geography and

education,

she earned her master’s of library and information science at the

University of West Ontario. She was recruited for her job at an

American

Library Conference and "came to Princeton four years ago

today,"

she says in a conversation on October 2.

She got her first computer in 1987, first logged onto the Internet

in 1994, and says Netscape is her browser of choice. As far as search

engines go, she relies on Google for most of her searches, but turns

to the Librarian’s Index to the Internet when she wants greater

accuracy.

A website only gets on that search engine, she says, if it has passed

inspection by a librarian who holds a master’s degree. Each site comes

with a review, also written by a professional librarian.

Another alternative search engine on which Hermann relies is the

Invisible

Web Directory. "It leads to search engines that uncover the hidden

Internet," she says, explaining that the Googles of the Internet

do not index PDF files or pages within databases. This information

remains beyond their reach — at least for now.

Hermann used to do a lot of recreational surfing, but now rarely uses

the Internet at home, except, she says, "for E-mail, shopping,

and information." She sees a similar trend at the library. "We

used to have people come in to do chatting," she says. There has

been a "marked decrease" in this activity, and also in the

amount of time people spend on the library’s Internet terminals.

When the Internet was a newer phenomenon, it was not uncommon, she

says, to see library patrons sit in front of a screen for two or three

hours. Now it’s more like 15 minutes. "More people are very

efficient,"

she observes. "They check out a fact, and get out."

All 50 of the library’s databases can be accessed from any of its

24 computer terminals, a number that will quadruple when the library

moves into its new home back on Witherspoon Street. Hermann’s Data

Bytes series not only highlights features of these databases, but

also gives tips on finding categories of information on them. For

example, she says, one of the sessions was on how to find book

reviews,

an especially helpful tool for book clubs deciding what to read next.

Facts.com, the database highlighted in the upcoming Data Bytes

session,

has appeal for just about anyone. It offers digests of news events

reaching back to 1940. Among its nifty features is an "issues

and controversies" section, which presents pros and cons on hot,

current debates, including gene therapy research, human cloning,

Miranda

warnings, and the death penalty. For each topic there is an overview,

a history, key words, and points to make in a debate — pro and

con. The points on each side are backed up by news clippings from

major newspapers.

Facts.com also has extensive lesson plans for teachers and science

experiments for students. For everyone, it has a world news digest.

Type in a date, and it gives the headlines and main stories from that

day. It also has an almanac, complete with up-to-date country reports.

A draw-back to the Facts.com database is that it does not offer

full-text

articles. But the library has a number of databases, including Dow

Jones, that do.

There are few things a search on the library’s databases won’t

uncover.

The Community Resource File, for instance, lists area clubs. It was

there that Hermann found the Outer Circle Ski Club. And it was at

the ski club that she met Edward Hermann, an ETS configuration

management

specialist, whom she married 18 months ago.

Leslie Burger, the library’s director, urged the couple to wed in

the library. The building was about to be torn down, and she had

always

wanted to see a bride descend its dramatic, curved staircase. Hermann

and her groom decided to say their vows at Trinity Church, but did

agree to stop by the library for a grand walk down the doomed

staircase.


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