Electronic resources then and now

Coffs Harbour Libraries have been offering multimedia electronic resources to the community since the mid-1990s. It is fascinating to compare the early electronic reference material originally available on CD-ROM (Compact Disc – Read Only Memory) on one dedicated computer terminal in 1996 to the wonderfully interactive electronic reference material available to us now, which can be accessed remotely for anyone with internet access and a library card number!

Coffs Harbour Shire Council, in 1985, purchased an Apple computer for the Coffs Harbour branch of Clarence Regional Library. Interestingly, at the time it was only the eighth public usage computer in country New South Wales public libraries – this must have been quite exciting for a regional area such as Coffs Harbour! The computer was pre-loaded with a selection of children’s computer games and was launched to coincide with NSW Children’s Week.

In 1993 ex-members of the Coffs Computer Society donated a CD-ROM player to the library, this was gratefully accepted as the library was planning to add CD-ROM technology to its services in the near future and the donation helped to bring the project to fruition. A library report from the 1994/95 financial year states that the library then held two titles on CD-ROM in the collection.

It wasn’t until February 1996 that the library offered a dedicated computer terminal with reference material available on CD-ROM. This service was jointly funded by Coffs Harbour City Council and the State Library of New South Wales on a one month trial basis. With only one computer system available to access this service, users needed to book in to access the computer in order to use the range of CD-ROM titles that were available. Initially the titles available included Ancient Lands; World Book Multimedia Encyclopaedia; the Ultimate Human Body and ABS Census data from 1991 census. The CD-ROM material would have made reference resources come alive for researchers with sound, images and animation. In the second half of 1996 the number of CD-ROM database titles held by the library had doubled.

In January 1997 the library expanded its collection of information databases available on CD-ROM to include titles such as the Sydney Morning Herald, MIMS Drug Database, Encarta ’96, Geology of Australia, Wildinfo – on Australia’s endangered fauna and World Magazine Bank including information from over 400 magazine titles. The library received a Local Special Projects Grant from the State Library of New South Wales for the purchase of an additional computer terminal, printer and disc stacker to allow better access to the increasing range of databases available on CD-ROM.

In 1998 the library joined NSW.net, a service of the State Library, offering a permanent high-bandwidth internet connection and a Virtual Private Network for the delivery of information services. Currently the library subscribes to a number of online databases which library members can access anywhere they have an internet connection. In some instances these resources have completely replaced the traditional reference books – an example is Encyclopedia Britannica, which in March 2012announced that the 2010 15th edition would be the last print edition of the encyclopedia, from then on it would only be available online.

Coffs Harbour Libraries now offers 17 public access computers across its three branches for patrons to access the internet as well a free public wireless internet (wifi) for those who bring their own devices. The library’s public access computers have the latest Microsoft Office products installed and a range of electronic reference resources are available online through the Library’s website.  Many of these ‘e-resources’ now include free apps for mobile devices such as smart phones and tablet computers.

Written by Skye Ravenscroft

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