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Sixteenth-century philosopher Sir Francis Bacon’s assertion, “Knowledge itself is power,” holds true in today’s market-driven economy. Companies that are vigilant in obtaining and using knowledge make successful decisions. Large organizations typically have the financial latitude to house a corporate library or use outside sources, options that have been historically unattainable for smaller companies. Now, as digital capabilities continue to improve, smaller companies have an opportunity to build internal resources by creating a virtual library (VL). For smaller companies, building a basic VL can be completely feasible and easy to manage. Typically found within a company’s intranet, a virtual library is a dedicated portal created for a company’s internal use or only for authorized users. A good VL library is the ultimate reading room that is tailored solely to the needs of your company. As with a standard library, which holds collections of books, journals and multimedia, a VL can provide many of the same resources, only the majority of content resides in digital form, consisting of e-journals, licensed databases and selected Internet links. Unlike a brick-and-mortar library, the biggest advantage of a VL is that it never closes. The goal of a virtual library is to create a centralized portal that provides your staff with the knowledge and tools needed to give your company an information edge. When initiating a VL, management and employees must first determine the information it needs access to. Think of a VL as the electronic card catalog for a company’s information resources. A good VL directs users to all electronic and paper collections that are held within the company. This can reduce duplication of resources and is an efficient way to exchange knowledge and communicate with the entire company or a specific group. A VL should include electronic resources that most businesses retain “somewhere” or on someone’s PC, such as Web links to library catalogs, PowerPoint presentations, vendor contacts, marketing handouts, sales reports, industry-specific list servers and customer database records. The virtual library can also point users to a company’s collection of subscriptions for trade magazines and news publications and then identify the location of the material within the building. The VL can also list company documents and files, and if they reside in conventional file cabinets or a specific site within a firm’s computer system. Reference books, industry specification sheets, competitors’ brochures and the location of that material can also be indexed. The site should be a dynamic resource with content being added, edited and deleted, as information needs demand or as the competition changes. Discipline-specific Internet sites, search engines and list servers are valuable tools for technology-related firms. For business users, a VL can hold collections of electronic journals and newsletters, fee-based database access, archived market reports and mailing lists. For the administrative user, the VL can be a repository for Web-based dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, almanacs and federal-state-local regulations and records. Researchers can gain access to government/patent databases and research labs, academic library catalogs and professional societies’ sites indexed at the VL. Implementation of a VL can be handled internally by a Webmaster or outsourced to an Internet service provider. To gather ideas on creating a virtual library, work with local academic libraries to tap their expertise. Most academic libraries have a VL of their own. You can also consider donating or sharing information in your collection in exchange for access privileges. How you build a virtual library depends on the needs of your company and the amount of time and funds that can be invested. If you already have an intranet, building a separate area for a virtual library will be a low-cost addition. If you’re starting from scratch for an intranet and a virtual library, your company’s needs, budget and staffing will be a direct correlation to the final product. You could spend under a thousand dollars for a small site with few bells and whistles and the price goes up from there. However you decide to build an internal site, work closely with the designer and programmers and ensure that the site is built with the flexibility for future expansion. The users should develop the type of content and work in tandem with the Web developers to determine the layout. Down the road you may need to reconfigure the organization of the site due to a growth in content or you may want to add more tools or dedicated areas. Once you initiate a VL, it is important to promote the site and its capabilities. Visibility on the company intranet is very important to keep the library’s existence top of mind for employees. E-mail announcements to staff to remind them of existing and new resources to the site. For more information, visit: LibrarySpot.com is a free virtual library resource center for anyone exploring the Web for valuable research information: www.libraryspot.com. The Internet Public Library is the first public library of and for the Internet community: www.ipl.org. The Librarians’ Index to the Internet is a searchable, annotated subject directory of more than 12,000 Internet resources selected and evaluated by librarians: http://lii.org/. The WWW Virtual Library claims to be “the oldest catalog of the Web,” started by Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of html and the Web itself: www.vlib.org. Available in Connecticut is iCONN. It is part of the Connecticut Education Network, and provides students, faculty and residents with online access to essential library and information resources: www.iconn.org. Dennis Cronin is a Senior Information Specialist at Nerac.

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