Library opens its catalog to home computers

November 03, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

Charles W. Robinson envisions the day that Baltimore County residents can punch a few buttons on their home computer and have anything from a cat license to a census report spewing out of their printer.

But until that day arrives, Mr. Robinson, director of the county library system, will settle for allowing residents to search for library books and cruise the Internet from their home computers.

With little fanfare, Mr. Robinson's staff has opened up 14 telephone lines for computer users to sign onto the library's catalog system. Users can search for titles, author's name, or subject, find out if the book is in, and at what branch.

Users can also search a database of county agencies, community groups and other organizations.

Eventually, Mr. Robinson said, users will be able to reserve books from home using their computers.

Under the system now, citizens can hook up to the Internet, a worldwide web of interconnected computers, through the library number. The call is routed to SAILOR, a system developed by Maryland's public libraries to give users access to thousands of databases and other Internet resources.

"It's not as sexy as we want yet, or as useful as we want yet," said Mr. Robinson, whose staff is working on increasing the information available in databases, as well as making the system easier to use.

Baltimore City's Enoch Pratt Free Libray got the statewide program started in July, and the Harford County library went on-line in September. Eventually, people in most parts of the state will be able to log on to their local library systems with local calls.

In Baltimore County, Mr. Robinson said, there will eventually be as many as 40 telephone lines.

He said he would also like to make public records available over computer lines.

"There's no reason why you can't get a government information file, so long as it's computerized, and many of them are," he said. For example, he said a county resident could tap into permits and licenses to see if a neighbor had obtained a permit for a shed or other improvement.

Some services might cost money, and for that, Mr. Robinson said he hopes to be able to accept credit card charges.

Much of that is in the future.

For now, anyone interested in using the system needs a home computer, a modem and communications software. The settings are eight data bits, no parity and one stop bit. The number, (410) 494-1199, is available 24 hours a day.

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