[email protected] : Free Online Resources for Public Library Users: California

Lois C. Ambash is President and Chief Infomaven of Metaforix Incorporated, whose services include organizational assessment and planning activities, web site and e-letter content development, and design and delivery of customized workshops for healthcare, education, business, and community organizations. Lois holds a PhD in American Culture and Writing, Master’s degrees in Library/Information Science and Public Policy, and a Bachelor’s degree in English. She serves on the board of the Internet Healthcare Coalition and on URAC’s Health Web Site Accreditation Committee, and is a frequent writer and speaker on e-health, Internet research, business communications, and organizational culture. Read or subscribe to Lois’s blog, Metaforix@.

As anyone who has seen the Metaforix logo can guess, I am a proud New Yorker. One of the many benefits of living or working in New York City is that you are eligible for a New York Public Library card. Although I visit the main and branch libraries only occasionally, I access many of NYPL’s electronic resources from my home computer almost daily – or from my laptop when I’m on the road.

I’ve been exploring what kinds of resources are freely available online, from home or office, to library card holders in other U.S. cities and states. If you haven’t used these resources, you may be amazed at their depth and variety. This is the first in a series of columns that will survey what’s available, with an emphasis on full text health-related resources. When you visit the sites, in most cases, you will find equally rich resources in a variety of other subject areas.

One important note: While most of the library sites restrict certain databases to card holders only, almost all of them link to databases and sites that are freely available to any visitor. The links are selected by professional librarians with a variety of community and personal interests, so you may come across unusual references that might not otherwise have crossed your screen.

If you’re wondering why all the sites in this roundup are from California, there’s a method to my madness. I intend to cover all states in order of population, according to the 2002 Census. For each state, I’ll also include at lease the largest city, and sometimes several cities if they are among the 50 largest in the nation. I won’t omit Washington, DC, whose population of 571,000 is larger than Detroit’s, but smaller than Newark’s.

As it turns out, California is not only the nation’s largest state (35 million and counting). It is also home to eight of our 50 largest cities. I’ve included the top four here. While researching this article, I’ve also learned from personal experience that California’s online reference system, created by the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System and variously known as AskNow, InfoNow, and 24/7 Reference, is an extraordinarily responsive and useful resource.

I had no difficulty accessing the system through three of the four library sites to verify information about library access and borrowing privileges. (When I attempted to use the system directly from the AskNow site, its “ZIPcheck” screen barred me from access based on my home ZIP code.) In each case, the librarian provided a quick and thorough response. Twice, librarians recommended that I phone the reference desk of the library in question to verify our mutual interpretation of the information. By choosing to provide my e-mail address at the start of each online reference interview, I requested a transcript of the interview. In each case, it arrived within seconds after the chat session ended .

One more interesting aspect of this project is that I have been using Onfolio to compile, assemble, and publish it. I highly recommend this research aid, whose complimentary 30-day trial quickly made a convert of me. If you would like a copy of this column as created Onfolio, contact me at CAHealth@ Metaforix.com. The column will arrive as an e-mail attachment in .mht format, viewable in Internet Explorer .

California State Library

Home page : http://www.library.ca.gov/

Selected online resources available to all site visitors:

The Catalogs of the California State Library , a gateway to many, but not all, library holdings, some of which are available online in full text versions. Notable collections include:

Public version of the California Digital Library , “a single point of access for digital collections produced or managed” by the ten campus libraries of the University of California, including both “scholarly and popular content.” Selected health-related collections are noted below:

A browsable Chronology of AIDS in San Francisco compiled by the AIDS Oral History Project.

A Patient Guide to Breast Care from the UC San Francisco Comprehensive Cancer Care Center.

An Eye Simulator/Virtual Patient Simulator from the UC Davis School of Medicine, designed as an instructional tool for physicians.

A primer on Health Insurance and Disability Benefits from the UC San Francisco Comprehensive Cancer Care Center.

The publications of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research . The Nuclear Medicine MediaBook of UCLA’s Crump Institute for Biological Imaging. The Online Archive of American Folk Medicine , a “database of approximately 200,000 folk medicine records” assembled by folklorists and an interdisciplinary team of other scholars at UCLA.

The Muscle Physiology Home Page of UC San Diego, an extensive professional resource including links to full-text scientific papers and video demonstrations of laboratory procedures.

Counting California , a rich database of statistics compiled by federal, state, and local government agencies.

Health and Vital Statisics includes many data sets in Excel and PDF format.

The Melvyl Catalog , a searchable database of over 23,000,000 records encompassing the holdings of the University of California libraries and several partner institutions, in all media formats. The site offers sophisticated search options and extensive documentation. Some holdings are accessible only to current UC students and faculty.

Restricted online resources:

Student and faculty version of the California Digital Library .

Los Angeles Public Library

Home page : http://www.lapl.org/index.html

Library card eligibility:

No residency requirements. Apply in person or online . Online applicants have 30 days to pick up the card at any LAPL branch, upon presenting proper identification. This policy applies to out-of-state residents as well as in-state residents.

Selected online resources available to all site visitors:

InfoNow : “24/7 Reference” lets patrons ask questions and get answers from live reference librarians, in real time. A transcript of the chat session is sent to the visitor’s e-mail address immediately after it is concluded. More information about the 24/7 project is available at http://www.247ref.org/ .

Selected online resources restricted to LAPL card holders:

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, including updated science and technology news, learning resources, and links to related websites.

Alt-Health Watch, full-text academic and professional database focused on complementary and alternative healthcare.

Health and Wellness Resource Center, consisting of full-text medical encyclopedias, journal articles, and pamphlets.

Nursing Home Inspector, consisting of reports on nursing homes nationwide and related articles on eldercare.

Physicians Desk Reference with Stedman’s Medical Dictionary

San Diego Public Library

Home page: http://www.sannet.gov/public-library/

Library card eligibility:

California residents, San Diego property owners, and military personnel stationed within San Diego County are freely eligible upon presenting proper identification at any branch. Non-residents are eligible upon payment of a $30 annual fee. Application may be downloaded in English or Spanish but must be presented in person.

Selected online resources restricted to holders of valid library cards with PIN:

AskNow provides live assistance from professional reference librarians during hours when the library is closed .

RAND California, comprising detailed social and economic statistics for California.

Alt-Health Watch, full-text academic and professional database focused on complementary and alternative healthcare.

Health and Wellness Resource Center, consisting of full-text medical encyclopedias, journal articles, and pamphlets.

Environmental Universe, comprising news, rulings, research, and data.

San Jose Public Library

Home page: http://www.sjlibrary.org/index.htm

Library card eligibility:

California residents with proper identification are freely eligible for library cards, as are faculty, staff, and students of San Jose State University. Access to various collections and online databases varies according to borrower categories .

Selected online resources available to all site visitors:

AskNow reference services available 24/7 in English and during limited hours in Spanish . WIReD ( Web Information and Research Directory) database, “selected authoritative information and information resources” consisting of descriptions and links to websites, subscription databases of the SJPL system, books in the library’s catalog, and government directories relevant to San Jose area residents Selected online resources restricted to library card holders and available to “public borrowers”: Health and Wellness Resource Center, consisting of full-text medical encyclopedias, journal articles, and pamphlets.

Student Resource Center Gold, including Health Module, comprising primary and secondary source materials in various media formats, dating from 1980.

LegalTrac, comprising “articles in major law reviews, law journals, specialty law and bar association journals, and legal newspapers.”

San Francisco Public Library

Home page: http://sfpl.lib.ca.us/

Library card eligibility:

California residents, and San Francisco-based businesses and organizations are freely eligible; temporary San Francisco residents with proof of address may have renewable temporary borrowing privileges for 3 months at a time at a cost of $10.

Selected online resources available to all site visitors:

Entire site is accessible and searchable in Spanish and Chinese Ask a Librarian 24/7 live online reference services “from a California librarian.”

San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection , including images relevant to health, medicine, and community services.

Selected online resources restricted to library card holders:

All of the library’s subscription databases are accessible from remote locations, an unusual and convenient service to the community. Trial subscriptions on which the library seeks public comment are included.

Health and Wellness Resource Center, consisting of full-text medical encyclopedias, journal articles, and pamphlets.

PsycFirst, consisting of full-text articles and book chapters on psychology and related topics published during the current year and the three prior years.

MDX Health Digest, a full-text consumer-oriented health database drawn from scholarly and popular journals, newsletters, medical school and hospital publications, and bulletins dating back to 1988.

GenderWatch, a full-text database drawn from scholarly and popular journals, newspapers, books, conference proceedings, and other materials related to the evolution of gender roles, from 1970 forward.

LexisNexis Statistical, searchable access to statistical data and related text abstracts and articles from the US and other governments, professional and trade organizations, independent research organizations, and other sources.

BasicBIOSIS, consisting of full-text access to 350 core journals in the life sciences published during the current year and the four prior years.

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