Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 7, 1994

Hopkins in Cyberspace
By Mike Field

Eisenhower Library patrons will have an opportunity to test-drive
two computer library catalog systems later this month, in a
unique experiment aimed at eliciting user response in choosing
the library's next generation of computer systems.
     "To my knowledge this is something that hasn't been tried
before," said Todd Kelley, coordinator of library instruction and
electronic services at the library. "We are anxious to find out
what our patrons think of each system before we make a commitment
to purchase."
     Though many lament the demise of the venerable card catalog,
modern computer library catalog systems offer certain advantages
that should convince even the grumpiest computerphobe of their
worth. Foremost among them is the ability to access and search
the system remotely, often from the comfort of an individual's
desktop computer.
     "Statistics show that remote usage of Janus [the Eisenhower
Library's computer catalog system] just keeps going up and up,"
Kelley said. "We introduced remote access a few years ago and
since then it has just exploded. In fiscal year 1992-93 there
were 117,000 remote accesses. Last year, there were 165,959, a
growth of 41 percent. We expect that growth to continue in the
foreseeable future."
     The library's new computer system will make such remote
visits easier, quicker and more useful to patrons. It will also
add an array of improved services available at the library's own
     Part of the improvement in ease of access and use relates to
the underlying change in computer technology that has occurred
since the library's current system was installed in 1986. 
     That system operates on a single mainframe computer housed
in the basement of Garland Hall. It is a machine so powerful that
it needs its own water supply to keep it cool. The new system, by
contrast, will employ a distributed computer environment, where
smaller machines can work in tandem to perform all the functions-
-and more--previously reserved to the mainframe.
     Distributed computer environments appear to be the wave of
the future; in essence, Internet applications such as JHUniverse
represent the advent of the age of comparatively small, nimble
computers linked together in ever-changing configurations that
share information on demand. An essential component of this new
approach is the client/server relationship, an oft-used and
frequently misunderstood term that explains how two linked
computers relate to one another.
     One way to keep the terminology straight, Internet experts
say, is to think of yourself as the customer in an electronic
transaction. The software on your machine that enables you to
communicate and access information from another machine is the
client; the remote machine that helps you by providing the
information is the server. 
     As is often the case in computerese, the term server has
come to be used interchangeably for both the remote machine
itself and the software on the machine that enables it to provide
your computer with information. Often, the distinction is merely
academic; what is important is that your computer is the client
and the remote computer is the server.
     "One of the great advantages of the new distributed computer
environment has to do with the ease of remote access," Kelley
said. "With a new system, we will have the capability to offer
our patrons client software that, once installed on their
machines, will enable them to use their computers in a familiar
     "Say you have a Mac. With client software you will be able
to query, retrieve, display, save and edit information from the
library using all the commands you would normally use on the MAC.
Currently, all command functions reside on the host machine--our
computer in the basement of Garland--and in order to use our
system you have to learn all the commands required by our
     Currently, the Eisenhower Library is considering two new
systems that employ the distributed computer environment. Library
staff will conduct intensive, guided tests of the systems from
Nov. 16 to 19, said Virginia Massey-Burzio, head of resource
services at the library. 
     "This is a blind test designed to elicit feedback from our
users and to gain an understanding of their preferences," she
said. "We discovered from the current system, which is quite
powerful, that power isn't worth much if people don't know how to
use it. We really want the next system we install to be
user-friendly. Powerful, yet easy to use."
     Tests of the new systems will be conducted in the library's
electronic classroom during certain hours each day. Students,
faculty or staff who are interested in participating in the
tests, which would involve looking for information and then
answering questions about their experience, should contact Jane
Keefer at 516-4156 or Mike Tepin at 516-8346.

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