Young people searching for books in the Baltimore County Public Library system no longer have to go to their local branch to find what they need. These days, searching for a book is as simple as point and click, through the new Kids Catalog Web, launched Jan. 22.
Looking to take advantage of the available Web sites, search engines and message boards, the Baltimore County Public Library put together a service that builds on its existing online catalog in a way that is tailored to children.
"I really like the ability that you can go directly to the Internet from the catalog and find the subject that you're looking for automatically," said Patrick Schaefer, 11, a sixth-grader at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Towson.
Patrick was introduced to the site by his grandmother, a photographer for the library. He logs onto the Web from his family's computer.
"She thinks it's easy to use and that it saves a lot of time," said Patrick, who has used the site to research such subjects as dirt bikes, volcanoes and military units.
The service, available to anyone through the county library system's Web site, www.bcplonline. org, is designed to "give children an exciting pathway to their library and the Web resources we offer," said Bob Hughes, a public information officer for the library system.
Said Robert Pope, assistant manager of network services at the Baltimore County Public Library: "It functions as a sort of window-shopping for books, and integrates Web sites for kids."
Although other library systems throughout the state have pages for kids, this is the first catalog in the area geared specifically to children, county library officials say.
The library purchased the software for the Web site from the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries Corp., the automation vendor for the Baltimore County Public Library System.
The background of the page is a brilliant yellow, and the icons are bright and easy to read. Links to more than 5,000 Web sites make it simple for children to find subjects that interest them.
Links to the library's resources include "Find It," where children can locate books, videos and other materials available at the library; "Events," a listing for each branch; and "Best Stories," recommendations for young people.
"I would say that the most useful feature is the `Explore' feature of the catalog. There are very predictable, child-appropriate subjects that they can choose from. ... It's more effective and efficient to search," said Dianne Tremere, the information services coordinator for the Baltimore County Public Library.
Tremere said the page's intended audience is children from primary grades through middle school, as well as the parents of preschool children seeking materials for young children - groups that compose a substantial portion of the library's users.
"I think that it's a really useful thing for kids because it has two features to it," Tremere said. "One is that there are topics that [children] are most interested in, and that it has essentially created a point-and-click way to get to them, so children don't need to know how to type."
Kate Mayeski, a 10-year-old at Pine Grove Elementary School in Baltimore County, said she learned about the site when she was at the library and heard her mother discussing it with a librarian. "I decided that it might be neat to look at it," Kate said. She since has used the site five times and has told some of her friends to use it as well.
Library officials are pleased by such word-of-mouth recommendations. They plan to expand the offerings, perhaps by including individual school reading lists.
"The use of our library by children is very important, and this catalog directly targets them, as well as their parents," Tremere said.