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April, May, June, 1997
Volume 43, Number 2

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We Are the Link

by Cy Dillon

Dennis Robison tells me that he is taking early retirement because of the opportunity the Allen Administration has created for state employees. As a result, the library community in Virginia will lose one of its tireless innovators who has inspired us all to take on challenges that might have intimidated us in other circumstances. I certainly do not begrudge him the rest, but it seems too early in the networking game to lose his insistence that we can fulfill our most ambitious visions if we are practical, dedicated, and willing to risk the occasional failure.

Nevertheless, Dennis and the other librarians who have put so much energy and creativity into VIVA, the Virtual Library of Virginia, will leave a legacy that is unique. It will be an attitude rather than a specific program or institution, and it will be an attitude that can shape our futures if we adopt it. In the interview in this issue Dennis comments that librarians have to combine the best parts of technology, pedagogy, and information science in order to succeed in fulfilling a community’s needs. We have no reason to take a back seat to computer scientists, teachers, or information brokers because we are the link between those separate interests and our various publics. Without us they are quite literally disconnected.

I was reminded of how misunderstood those of us who work in libraries are during a recent meeting in which around thirty college library directors gathered for an introduction to a new database product. A computer scientist had been brought in to teach us unenlightened folk how to use Windows 95 so that using the new product in Netscape would not be too baffling. During the first half hour of his presentation I amused myself by linking our library catalog to his web page, as did some of the other attendees.

Our instructor explained that, after a break, he would move on to two more hours of mouse play. "I usually like to spend two days on this, but I have condensed it for you. Some of you may have even used it already."

"That’s funny," someone interrupted, "librarians teach people how to use Windows 95 in five or ten minutes on a daily basis."

When it was pointed out that all of us had searched databases on the Internet, the agenda was quickly changed. Still, we were left wondering why a faculty member from a major university would think librarians were technologically illiterate.

I know Dennis would never allow the faculty at James Madison to forget that he and the library staff are as up to date as any other group on campus, and that they are as successful as any other department at getting important things done. We cannot afford to let that attitude retire with him.

Speaking of retirees, Forrest Landon, former editor of the Roanoke Times and World News, has been doing anything but taking it easy as Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. As an upcoming article on database indexing indicates, Frosty’s organization played an advisory role in the development of state guidelines for making institutional databases accessible. Still, he is the first to acknowledge that the librarians involved were the ones with the essential knowledge of how to organize the project.

At a key point in the discussion Frosty apparently made the faux pas of calling for a "table of contents" for the databases, and was lectured on the advantages of indexes. "I had no idea librarians felt so strongly about organizing information," Landon admits. "I’ll never make that mistake again."

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