AIB. Commissione nazionale università e ricerca
Abstract: Aib-Web is the Web site of the Italian Library Association.
It could be described as an information tool for librarians but the aim
of the paper will be demonstrating how the editorial board is working in
order to reach wider goals: online professional updating, electronic publishing,
The home page (http://www.aib.it) gives access to the Association activities informing members about conferences and training courses.
Committes, Working groups and Regional Branches are able to present their projects keeping in touch with the associates by e-mail.
Electronic publications, once just e-version of professional journals, are now shifting to tailored information, captured on the Net or e-published, and organized in order to deepen the most important topics connected with the librarian profession. Copyright and library standards are some of the most investigated fields.
The list of Italian OPAC, built up by a truly cooperative approach, is regularly updated and represents a useful starting point for bibliographic research.
Legal information, always connected with librarian work development, is particularly monitored: a special resources list is presented including free of charge connections, with help facilities, and hosts descriptions with labels on each database. Evaluations and suggestions on integrating resources opportunities are expressed by law librarians.
Of course, Library and Information Science has a leading role within the Web. A rich Information science virtual reference desk is offered to users, including links to Library and Information Science Association.
AIB-Web site contains information about AIB-CUR, not just the librarian mailing list but probably the largest listserv based list in Italy. This is a dynamic, essential instrument of debate and updating reaching university as well as public librarians. It can be seen as a two-lane motorway sharing information among members and collecting requests for new goals.
Keywords: Web content, professional information, electronic publishing, added value.
1.1 AIB: a brief presentation
AIB is the professional association of Italian librarians. On July 1998
it counted 3251 associates, 890 of which organizations, that is public or
academic libraries. Following the statistics presented during the latest
National Congress in Genoa last year, from the Eighties the number of its
members doubled, and since January 1998 it increased by 6%.
AIB aims, listed in the Statute approved by all its members, could be summed up as follows:
AIB is the editor and publisher of journals, newsletters and monographies,
recognized as major professional information sources for Italian librarians.
A National Executive Committee, elected by all Association members, gives the guidelines for the organization development and coordinates the Regional Branches policies. National Committees and Working Groups study particular fields of interest, publishing new material and promoting research.
AIB is a member of IFLA, institutional member of FID, founder and full member of EBLIDA.
2. Moving to the Web: why and when
As all libraries seemed to compete on the Web in order to offer better
services, the Association did not want to be left behind. As librarians
were looking for value added information, the Association did not want to
offer just promoting services. The AIB-Web editorial board overcame the
limits imposed by paper publications, in order to reach wider goals. The
site could have been just a sort of window on the world, presenting the
Association activities, or distributing information and promoting debate
among the members. But the editorial board wanted AIB-Web to be a librarian
site, made by and for information professionists. The challenge was to demonstrate
how information could be managed, built up, completed and organized in order
to become librarian-tailored.
After a short trial period, AIB-Web was announced on March 1997. Since then, a lot has been done. In five months, from January till May 1998, the OPAC list had more than 20.000 visitors and 38 countries were consulting the links presented on the Web. AIB-Web was quoted by Italian and European journals - not only specialized in Library and Information Science - as an essential source of information.
Behind the success of AIB-Web there is the hard work of the editorial board in managing a variety of information resources. First of all, the editing of AIB-Web is carried out by people who cooperate from a distance. The editorial board, operating from all over Italy, shows how, using new technologies, it is possible to collaborate and to keep in touch without proper meetings. Distance limits, not just paper limits have been overcome. Behind a good Web site there is an enourmous e-mail interchange: the editorial board communications - about 25 people - have very often been twice as busy as the AIB-CUR discussion list (over 1400 subscribers).
The work is divided among sublists; each single field is the result of suggestions, improvements and updating efforts made by sublist members. The librarians working in the project have little opportunities to meet; the site, therefore, should not be considered just as a new communication tool offered by Internet, but as a new cooperative approach where the work of every AIB member is welcome. It is quite easy to contribute: just sending an e-mail to the sublist e-mail address and submitting questions or proposals. Thus, the numbers of contributors is continuously increasing.
These are the main guidelines:
This new communication tool was not devised as a static publication, but as a work in progress, reflecting the activities of the Association.
3.1 Distribution of information among associates
The Web has drastically changed the way information is shared. Courses,
Conferences and Meetings can be publicized to the associates in real time;
plans and speeches are made available full-text.
The work of Standing Committees, Working Groups and Regional Branches has acquired visibility and avails itself of wider external contributions. Members can be easily contacted through the e-mail and working strategies can be followed by everybody. Minutes, issues and results are available full-text. The Association political choices can finally be discussed by all members; recent suggestions on the creation of a professional board were debated through AIB-Web.
A wider and more capillary communication between associates was also attained thanks to AIB-CUR, the Italian librarian mailing list which is open to all information professionals, not just AIB. AIB-Web provides information about the list, from subscription to access to archive files.
Even though it is not limited to AIB associates, the list is their preferred communication channel and is still developing. In July 1998, it included 1393 Italian and 62 foreign associates. In the first semester of 1998 their number had increased by 23%. It is not just a librarian mailing list but the largest e-mail discussion list in Italy. The highest number of librarians in the mailing list is from the North and the Centre of Italy and, according to a questionnaire distributed in 1997, a majority of subscribers is from University and research libraries, where network connectivity is still easier than in public libraries.
3.2 Online professional updating
Updating is mainly carried out through the "News". In AIB-Web,
this covers recent events in the life of the Association, as well as current
Italian and foreign projects. Users can avail themselves of an online updated
catalogue listing all AIB publications, with relevant abstracts and indexes.
One of the main advantages provided by the site is the opportunity to consult the texts debated at conferences and seminars. All speeches are made available full-text as soon as possible. Courses recommended by the Association are publicized right away.
In order to meet the requirements of operators dealing with legal matters, updating on amendments and changes in fields such as copyrights is also provided. Links, articles and associations dealing with individual issues are also indicated. Training opportunities are advertised, not only for librarians but also for students who would like to start the profession. This is the result of wide research on paper and online - data are often difficult to find due to lack of collaboration on the part of the Istitutions. Direct access to Universities specialization schools and courses is provided and information on courses held by local public authorities has recently been added.
3.3 Towards electronic publishing
Although the main updating sources are on paper, AIB has been able to
provide a variety of information tools. Since 1995, the Bibliografia
Italiana delle Biblioteche, del libro e dell'informazione (Italian bibliography
of libraries, books and information science) - published on paper since
1975 - has been distributed on floppy disk together with Bollettino AIB.
On the Web, the monthly AIB-Notizie (AIB News) is available full-text while the quarterly bulletin -Bollettino AIB - has a cumulative index. The editors' wish was not only to turn paper into electronics but also to publish information in electronic form - for instance, the Guida alle fonti di informazione della biblioteconomia in rete (A guide to LIS resources on the net). This, in electronic form only, is an integration to guides previously published on paper. The idea behind it was, once again, to fill in a gap.
One of the major organizing efforts concerned Government information, which in Italy is quite murky. Here, links provide access to specific sites - legal or juridical - as well as to the authorities in charge of the documents. For each individual item the archive provides instructions, reference and further information - such as coverage, updating and costs - drawn up by librarians specialised in the field. This is a precious tool that has not equivalent on paper. Users have access to data which is otherwise very difficult to get and can evaluate in a comparative way different paths towards resources integration. In Italy, legal information online can avail itself of a number of hosts providing services which are apparently similar but rarely exaustive. For instance, the Gazzetta Ufficiale - the most important source of information as regards public examinations and regulations - can be searched through a number of channels. Consulting the site a librarian can tell at what price and to what extent. Regulations are grouped according to the issuing authority as well as to the sector concerned - health, environment, education and so on. The links also allow to retrieve the shorthand minutes of Parliamentary Acts and European Community documents. Although this information is available online, usually it is hidden in a bureaucratical maze; new Web sites concerning public authorities are publicized by AIB-CUR - only electronics can keep the pace with this ever changing world.
3.4 The librarian reference desk
Reference is one of the key services offered by a librarian. Librarians
have to deal with increasingly complex bibliographical researches, usually
followed by interlibrary loans, and thus need constant updating. While providing
a reference desk, they need a reference desk themselves and must be more
informed and updated than ever. AIB-Web can cater for different needs, supporting
the librarian enquires and providing a precious professional reference desk.
Links such as Italian OPAC and LIS virtual reference desk are good examples
of this effort. In Italian OPAC, resources were divided into national, regional,
provincial, city or single libraries collective catalogues. The editors
researched the whole of Italy, dividing it into areas. Thus 251 OPAC were
available by May 1998, for a total of 330 possible accesses. Where only
Telnet access is available, the basic commands are detailed.
But what happens when a librarian needs a reference service? The LIS virtual reference desk is an interesting example of resource organisation. Not only does it provide information, but it can manage, manipulate and organize it. In order to subdivide the material, the professional Italian literature classification as per the Bollettino AIB was applied. Resources were grouped according to the subject matter and organized in a professional way. Thus librarians can retrieve information following a well-known pattern and new sources can be added in a consistent way. Links cover all aspects of the profession and neglect no detail - the LIS virtual reference desk, for example, provides access to specialized sources, as well as to professional associations and publishers in Italy and abroad. In a seminar on AIB-Web held in Rome in May 1998 the reference service provided by the site was praised by participants from all over Italy. OPAC accesses through AIB-Web prevail over similar services in Italy and online LIS resources are the main updating tool for Italian librarians.
Recently AIB promoted another project in the field - the Coordination of Italian WWW for librarians. This was done to organize a multitude of online services offering specialized information. The purpose was once again to provide a wider reference desk, integrating different sources. This new venture started in May 1998.
4. Added value
AIB-Web was created to be a librarian tool. Librarians know exactly what quality information is - reliable, updated, exaustive. Information as such is often useless and it is the work behind it that makes it valuable. The added value in AIB-Web is the result of different efforts in different directions, in line with internationals trends. Conventional cooperation means were abandoned and the new approach proved successful. The new opportunities and mainly the e-mail were exploited to the best. The electronic publications developed by AIB-Web provide access to information which could not be retrieved otherwise, organizing resources in a consistent and professional way, reviewing and integrating them. AIB-Web librarians did not sit back, but worked hard to provide high added value services.
Are librarians going through a crucial time just before the year 2000? This much asked question implies the existence of a phase after which everything is going to be routine again. However, the profession will always undergo changes and librarians will have to adapt. Old knowledge will have to be applied to new tools. Information editors and distributors work hard to provide quality information to satisfy even the most demanding user - the librarian. AIB-Web is the result of the joint effort of many Italian librarians to provide users and colleagues with professional services. At AIB-Web, new technologies are not resented but exploited to the full - used as tools, rather than contents. The work methodology and criteria are based on skills which are older than the technology applied. AIB-Web is a work in progress, developing through the cooperation of a number of people who do not fear technology and look forward to the future.
Dr Sonia Minetto
Genoa University Library Network
AIB National University and Research Committee
Centro Servizio Bibliotecario di Giurisprudenza "P.E.Bensa"
Università degli Studi di Genova
Via Balbi 130/R
16126 Genova Italy
Tel.+39 010 2099879
FAX +39 010 2099877
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Sonia Minetto graduated in modern languages in 1989. She is been working at the Law library at the University of Genoa since 1992. Having started in the cataloguing sector, she soon moved to online bibliographical research. Since 1992 she has attended numerous training and updating courses on Internet and specialized data bases. Her articles were published in Italian and foreign journals. At present she is the head of the bibliographical research service at the Law library. Her teaching experience was recently presented at a Seminar in Florence. Sonia Minetto belongs to the AIB National University and Research Committee.