By Tim Leeds
The Havre-Hill County Library's collection catalog has come a long way from three-by-five index cards.
Not only is all of the library's collection catalogued and indexed in computer files, anyone with Internet access can now browse the catalog from their computer terminals.
Library Director Bonnie Williamson said that after several months of work, the online catalog was opened on the library's webpage, at www.mtha.mt.lib.org, about a week ago.
She said it's already being used. Some people from Washington have placed a hold on a book from the Havre library's collection, she said.
Library patrons can now go to the webpage to search for titles and use the user number or their library card to place holds on titles, check what books they have checked out, and see if they have any overdue books or charges.
The catalogs of the libraries of all public schools in town are also hooked into the search, so patrons might be able to find a book even if the public library doesn't have it.
Williamson said they hope to expand the connections in the future, to include other public libraries in the area. The connections could eventually include most libraries in the eastern half of the state, if not the entire state.
Williamson said most libraries in the area are not quite ready to connect yet, but that she hopes to add them as they are able and willing to join the online catalog.
She said there are basically two requirements before a library can join a shared online catalog. The library must have its entire collection indexed on a computer file and must have a direct connection on the Internet, she said. She said the system would not work effectively if the library only has a dial-up connection.
Williamson said most libraries in the area don't have both computerized collections and direct internet connections yet. She said while most public schools do have direct Internet connections, most do not have their catalogs computerized and machine-readable.
She most most public libraries have the opposite problem. While most do have machine-readable collections, she said, most do not have direct connections.
Williamson said that she hopes to add more libraries to the shared catalog as they meet the requirements. She said some Hi-Line libraries are expressing interest in doing so in the future.
Willimason said an additional bonus with the shared catalog would be shared library cards. She said since all libraries on the system will share the same machine-readable collections, patrons would be able to use the same library card for all libraries in the system. Once they are in the system, she said, library patrons could check out books in Havre, Chinook, Chester, any library connected, with one card.
She said the Montana Library Network, under the Montana State Library, is offering funds for up-front costs to help libraries gain the technology needed to hook up to the shared catalog.
Williamson said the Library Foundation, the non-profit organization which accepts funding donations for the library, was forward-thinking enough to buy a server for the library that could serve as the central site for the shared catalog. As different libraries join the shared catalog, they will act as agencies within the shared site.
She said when they began planning a computerized catalog, they wanted to buy a system that was forward-thinking. She said they could "see the writing on the wall" that shared catalogs are the way of the future, and will benefit the smaller libraries, and, in the end, all libraries.