Toulouse: A Study in Libraries’ Virtual Future

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Toulouse selected iBistro, an innovative e-library system that can either be integrated into an ILS, like Unicorn, or run on its own, as part of the foundation of its virtual library. According to the Sirsi Web site, "with an iBistro e-library you can perform online all the functions of the traditional library, plus many more available in today's digital world." iBistro is essentially a portal. From the main page, you can search for a book by all the traditional means, subject, title, or author. Anyone who's used a library knows the drill. But iBistro's potential offers Toulouse much more. According to Toulouse's Surmonne, the Toulouse Library went with an e-library instead of a more traditional OPAC, because "it's the latest trend and links towards enriched catalogue entries was very enticing."

According to the old adage, you can't judge a book by its cover, though Toulouse thinks iBistro may just prove otherwise. The Library doesn't yet have the system functional, but a tour of iBistro demonstrates that it holds a great deal of promise for libraries. The enriched catalogue options are really its strong point and, not surprisingly, this is what gets Surmonne excited about its implementation. To be able to see the book cover, read it, and maybe even read a few pages of the book via the Library site is sure to please Library members. But there are still some kinks in the system: For starters, the people in charge of updating this and other e-library information are not Library staff members as the Library staff did not have time to add this to their lengthy to-do lists. Sirsi is in charge of maintaining these functions for other clients, but this isn't possible for the Toulouse project. The multiLIS Europe office is currently in negotiation with Electre, the only French provider of enriched catalogue content, to resolve this problem.

Making IT Their Own
Other seductive iBistro functions have been deactivated on the Toulouse system for language reasons. Normally, Library members can create a login and password to access a personalized version of the iBistro portal. When logged in for the first time, users create a profile and inform the system of what subjects interest them, or who their favorite authors are. Sirsi regularly updates iBistro, so that when users login they're provided with a list of new acquisitions that correspond to pre-set criteria or bestseller lists. In some cases, iBistro redirects users to Amazon if a favorite author has just published a new book that's not yet in the Library collection. Unfortunately, this function hasn't yet been adapted to the francophone book world.

Language barriers have forced yet another function to be disabled. iBistro also functions as a Web filter. If you search for a certain title or subject, the service will provide you with links to other sources on the Web. Unfortunately for Toulouse, Sirsi hasn't yet mapped the francophone Web and the Library sees little point in directing French-speaking Library members to English language Web sites.

Négrel says, "Toulouse's iBistro system will initially be run with a minimum of functions. But, as work and negotiations progress, more and more functions will be added." His office will be in charge of updating the iBistro system, like Sirsi does for its anglophone customers.

The Jewel In The Crown
Toulouse decided to improve its catalogue system because, as Surmonne explains, "the Toulouse Public Library possesses collections that are of regional and national interest. It seems indispensable that our catalogue be accessible from a distance." By deciding to purchase the Hyperion Digital Media Archive, Toulouse made a serious commitment to providing everyone with the chance to view its patrimonial collection because Hyperion is specifically designed for precious documents. Through a special scanning process, a library can archive rare collections digitally and then provide anyone access to them via the Internet. In the past, to view Toulouse's illuminated manuscripts, or its music partitions, you had to first be a member of the Library and then proceed in the typical brick and mortar library fashion. From now on, when you do a regular search on Toulouse's iBistro system, there will be direct links to the digitized documents from the bibliographic references.

Unicorn, iBistro, and Hyperion are not yet functional within the Toulouse Library system, though with last minute touches underway, they are hopeful the system will be up and running soon. When it is officially launched, it will be available only at the Perigord building, but if all goes well, by September 2003, iBistro will be available all over the Web.

Seven staff members are working on this project, though the Toulouse Public Library and its many municipal branches aren't the only libraries involved. The libraries of The Museum of Modern Art, the Regional National Conservatory, and the Museum of Natural History will also be part of the system. The Toulouse Digital Library represents an enormous undertaking, but Jacques Surmonne emphasizes that the flexibility the system offers is very attractive. "Because so many different institutions will be involved, it is important that each library be able to use the system independently." As work progresses, Toulouse's e-library is sure to impress.

Bibliothèque de Toulouse
Sirsi Corporation

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