We are a society awash in information. In addition to printed material, there are hundreds of television channels, and the Internet is on our telephones as well as our computers.
Many predicted that the technological revolution sweeping the world would make public libraries obsolete. Instead, we librarians have adopted the technology of the 21st century to continue doing what we do best: researching, evaluating and providing timely, accurate information to our patrons.
What can we find for you at the Hernando County Public Library?
The answer is: just about anything.
We can find in a few minutes information that you might struggle to find on your own: the address of an old friend in California or the ZIP code for your uncle in Ontario, an article from a New York newspaper, the obituary of your great-grandmother in Grand Rapids, the phone number of that company that shipped you X when you ordered Y, the spelling of any word you can think of, the name of an old song or a line from a poem.
We can help you print out an airline boarding pass or find the answer to a crossword puzzle clue. We can find articles on how to repair it, maintain it and clean it, and where to buy it, sell it or have it appraised. We'll give you driving directions. On the rare occasions when we can't find what you're looking for, we'll provide you with the phone number of someone who can.
A lot of information can be found on the Internet. Books aren't obsolete yet, but they do compete for space and attention with computers. Each has positives as a reference tool: Computers are sometimes a faster way to find things, put a wider variety of sources at your fingertips and are easier to keep current; books offer permanence, are easier to read and are not at the mercy of fickle technology. Nevertheless, a reference librarian these days often reaches for his or her keyboard before referring to traditional reference sources in response to a question.
But — how do you find the good stuff?
For many people, the World Wide Web is like deep space: huge, mysterious and unfathomable. There are tens of millions of Web sites containing billions of Web pages, and the number grows by the hour. The Internet is also unregulated, and much of what's out there is of questionable value. Librarians can help you find what you need for school, work or personal reasons, on the Internet and in library databases.
All government agencies offer access to their services on the Internet; in some cases, residents are required to use the Internet to apply for government services. Librarians can get you started filling out online forms and applications, and printing forms for passports, immigration, legal matters and taxes. We can also help you send out resumes online, set up an e-mail account, access public records and find what you need to complete school projects.
Reference service also means finding books and audio/visual items, and the Hernando County Public Library carries an excellent collection of fiction, nonfiction and reference titles.
Many of us remember flipping through the card catalog in our search for books, but that catalog is most likely down the street today in our neighbor's basement, having found new life as storage for tools or sewing supplies. It's been replaced by an electronic version, called an online public access catalog.
If you're unfamiliar with the OPAC, librarians will be happy to show you how to use it or find a book for you. Just ask for assistance at the information desk. You can also access the library's catalog from your home computer by going to our home page at www.hcpl.lib.fl.us and clicking on "library catalog."
If we don't have what you're looking for, we will try to get it to you via interlibrary loan. And don't worry if you don't have all the book details. Armed with the OPAC, booksellers' Web sites and search engines, librarians can often find your book with just bits of information on the plot, subject, author or title.
Reference librarians are available to assist you at the West Hernando, Spring Hill and Brooksville branches during business hours. In addition, if you cannot call or come in while we are open, you can send in your request using the library's online reference service, "ask your librarian."
Simply go to our Web site — www.hcpl.lib.fl.us — and click on "ask your librarian" in the upper-right corner, underneath the picture of the tree. A reference librarian will usually get back to you in 24 to 48 hours.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Peter Tuite is a reference librarian for the Hernando County Public Library System.