Corrections or additions?
This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the August 18, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Princeton Library’s Business Edge
Eighteen million dollars later, the newly rebuilt Princeton Public
Library has transformed itself from a traditional brown box for
circulating books to the glitziest high tech information center
available today. Decked out with tech centers, big screen touch
computers that link in from your office to otherwise unavailable
corners of cyberspace, the new plant bristles with aid stations for
the business person.
On its corner of Witherspoon and Wiggins streets, the library offers
an ample 500-car municipal parking garage, with validation for library
patrons. You walk in the door and instantly notice the enticing cafe
with plush reading chairs. Massive plate windows lure strollers
outside to peek in, while patrons inside view the soon-to-be completed
outdoor reading park. The attractive store hosted by the Friends of
the Library holds an intriguing array of current volumes and reading
paraphernalia. Yet this ambiance, however delightful, is not the best
The best of it becomes apparent when you approach the booth announcing
"Welcome." Poised here is the ultimate search engine: a veteran
information professional. Not some smiling, idle receptionist, this
individual can give you what you need faster, more thoroughly, and
backed up by more sources than anyone at your home office suites.
Some may look like that old foreboding librarian you feared in grammar
school, and others resemble that young geek who performs software
wizardry at the office. No matter. When their fingers whisk lightly
through the printed pages or over the keyboard, your questions will be
answered. Count on it. And now that it has expanded into three 14,000
square-foot floors, laced with 35 miles of computer wire, the new
Princeton Public affords director Leslie Burger and her 45-person
staff the right tools to do what they do so well.
Tim Quinn is director of public relations, a job that includes doing
all the library’s graphics work. Today, libraries are like small
publishing houses, gushing out endless flyers and papers, not only
informing their public about events, but providing advice on subjects
of interest to library patrons. Quinn, whose past occupations include
a 10-year stint as a Trenton Times reporter, claims long experience
with the public library’s services.
"The real problem is that the business community just doesn’t know
what it’s got here," he says. "We have access to so many business
aids, but working folks still view us as some sort of recreational
Search for Yourself. In the new library’s impressive tech center,
white desks are topped by black, formidable-looking Dell computers.
Like little students they all gather round the huge four by two-foot
plasma touch screen looking down at them from the front wall. This big
screen, from its corner computer, can lock the little ones, erase
their images, and in short, control them utterly. To say the least, it
is a startling place to enter.
Yet, as patrons shift increasingly into search-it-yourself mode, the
library itself has changed to become more instructive. Besieged by the
ever-upgrading electronic milieu, folks find themselves owning
machines they can barely turn on, let alone operate. Here patrons can
try out the latest software and gadgets before they buy, and then
learn to get the most from their purchases. This service encompasses
everything from search software to audio-visual equipment to digital
cameras and editing software.
There’s even a course on selecting a digital camera. Bob Keith is one
of three reference librarians who man the technical center. Following
a masters in library science degree from Rutgers University, Keith’s
high tech career included a stint as a website designer, six years
providing customer advice at MacWarehouse, and working reference in
the Ocean County library system. He knows and has played with it all.
In addition to teaching classes for visitors, Keith and the tech
center crew also handle problems over the phone. "It’s fun to walk
some caller through a computer crash and help him get everything up
and running again," he says.
Finding Answers. By phone, by E-mail, or in person, the library will
search out your answers for free. Like most sophisticated libraries in
the state, it is linked to the New Jersey Library Network. If they
cannot answer your question, they will farm it out, and will get back
to you with the results – even if you’re on a business trip that puts
you many area codes away.
Princeton tends to go overboard with its answers, providing large
amount of photocopies of related statistics, with your specific
answers highlighted. Several businesses that have asked for exhaustive
lists and profiles of regional competitors have received as many as 50
sheets of paper in response.
Those wanting to ask a question after library hours can visit the
state-wide website www.QandANJ.com. This puts you in touch with a
professional librarian who will chat with you via the keyboard and
work out your problem, 24/7 all year round.
Reference director Elba Barzelatto has served in the Princeton Public
Library for 19 years, coming from New York Public. She oversees a
10-librarian reference staff, including 20-year veteran Barbara
Silberstein. Both women have noticed that the nature of questions has
changed in the wake of the Internet. "People more frequently ask for a
contact to give them the answer, than for us to find the answer
outright," says Barzelatto. For the self searcher, Princeton Public
LIbrary is now particularly accommodating, offering scores of
One of reference director Barzelatto’s greatest fears is the quality
of information browsers are getting online. To help build better
searches, the library offers a "How to Use Google" course (U.S. 1,
August 11). It also offers courses explaining the ‘Net in basic terms,
as well as in very advanced terms.
SAM in the stacks. Princeton Public LIbrary currently houses over 100
computers for public access – a near tripling of the number in the old
building. Linked by the Smart Access Management (SAM) computer
software, these include a whole bank of 15-minute open use machines on
the first floor and a section of 30-minute stations on the second,
plus extended use computers in special areas. The short term stations
are ideal for a quick E-mail check and demand no library card.
Library cardholders may sign up free for the extended use computers.
Cards may be obtained at no charge by any resident or business paying
taxes in the town. While out of area businesses must pay $200 a year
for a card, full computer access costs non-residents only $25 for six
Those bringing laptops to the library will find that literally every
table has a 10-megabyte dataport connection. If you forgotten your
cable, one will be provided for a refundable deposit, and if you have
forgotten how to work your own laptop, staff experts in Mac and PC
will help get you going.
From your armchair. Probably the greatest technological leap coming
out of the new Princeton library is its ability to set up a branch
right in your office. With a few clicks, you can flash onto your own
PC screen dozens of databases and library files unavailable on the
open ‘Net. Princeton University has given the public library a feed,
enabling patrons to browse everything it has stored online.
Expensive subscriber databases can also be accessed right from the
office or from home. By simply going to the www.princetonlibrary.org.
and typing in your card, you can directly click to whole list of vital
sites such as EBSCO. An important business tool, EBSCO provides an
exhaustively cross-indexed database of periodicals which can pop onto
your screen or into your printer at home. Unfortunately, not all
library databases are office accessible, notable among these being
Reference USA and Factiva (the old Dow Jones business listing), both
of which offer excellent corporate and fiscal profiles.
Over 65,000 visitors came through the doors of the new Princeton
Public Library in July. Today about another 2,200 will enter, seeking
a few drops from the information ocean, some recreational reading, or
perhaps just a cool place to chat with a friend. In each case, the
ultimate search engines labor to give the people what they need.
Yet even after construction, services change, and will continue to
change. There is a special business resource section planned for the
tower section. Quinn speaks of a day when patrons will be able to take
a seat at a computer station at any time and plug into an interactive
program to learn how to use a full range of software programs on their
own, and on their own schedules.
As noted by historian Augustine Birrell, "Great Libraries are not
made; they grow."
than a passing knowledge of librarians and their mission. His wife is
Lorraine Jackson, director of the South Brunswick Public Library.
Corrections or additions?
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