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Litchfield MN 55355

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Minnesota's digital library

MnKnows - Dig Deeper @ Your Library.

by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
4/20/11


People sometimes ask me if libraries are going to disappear as more and more things move to electronic, online formats.  If you come into the Litchfield Library almost any day of the week, you’ll be reassured that libraries are still community centers with plenty of bustling activity.  Neighbors of ours comment on how often our parking lot and street parking are full and what large numbers of people walk to the library any given day.
But certainly most of us do the majority of our information searching online now, instead of using books and physical copies of magazines and newspapers all the time like we used to.  Do you remember looking in periodical indexes in book form and then going to the old issues of magazines to find the information?  I don’t miss that.  But it can still be very difficult to find the information you’re looking for online, and you can find all sorts of inaccurate and unreliable information mixed into your search results.  Many things are just not available online for free; publishers are in business to make money, not to give away everything that they publish. 
One way that libraries have gotten involved in the online world as information providers is through digital libraries.  The state of Minnesota offers some wonderful digital library resources that you should try.
MnKnows, www.mnknows.org, is Minnesota’s digital library.  It offers access to information and publications, a Minnesota history collection, and live help from librarians.
The first thing you’ll notice on the MnKnows website is MnLink Gateway.  This is an online catalog for all of the libraries in the state that you can borrow from.  Please always check Pioneerland’s online catalog first, though, at iii.pioneerland.lib.mn.us, and order through that if possible.  But if you can’t get it from us, you can borrow items from libraries all over the state and have them sent to your local library
The next thing on the MnKnows site is the Electronic Library for Minnesota, or ELM.  You can find it directly at www.elm4you.org.  It’s a collection of excellent resources that are available to you at no charge.  These are not things that would be available for free on the internet otherwise.  Minitex, a program of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and the University of Minnesota Libraries, contracts with companies to provide these databases to Minnesota residents.  Just like a brick-and-mortar library would subscribe to the Wall Street Journal or buy a set of enclyclopedias so that you can use them, Minitex provides these reliable information sources to the public. 
ELM is useful to students, business and professional people, and anyone looking for reliable information published in journals, magazines, newspapers, scholarly e-books, and encyclopedias.  It includes several Britannica encyclopedias, the ERIC education database, the medical database Medline, and many magazine and journal databases that cover business, arts, science, and consumer information, among other subjects.  Even your elementary school student can use ELM to do homework, with a collection of resources geared to grades K-5.  Even though these resources are online, it isn’t like using Wikipedia or Yahoo Answers as a source for a paper.  These are reliable sources that are just like the print resources in a library, brought to you conveniently online for use anywhere, any time.
The next collection of resources in MnKnows is Minnesota Reflections.  This is a collection of images related to Minnesota history, including photos, documents, and maps.  If you enjoy looking through museum collections to learn about Minnesota history, you’ll enjoy browsing through this. 
If you need help from a librarian any time of day or night, even on a holiday, you can use the Ask MN service on the MnKnows website.   Instead of talking to the librarian in person or on the phone, you discuss your question by online chat, typing your conversation.  This service is provided cooperatively by librarians from all over.  I once got help from a librarian in Honolulu late at night when I was working on a college paper and the libraries here were closed. 
The last feature on the MnKnows library site is a research project calculator.  If you have a major paper to complete for a class, or even if you just want to set yourself up with a plan for writing the great American novel, you can create a schedule with deadlines for each portion of your project.
Digital libraries are the next frontier in providing library services to the public.  If you like to find information online and would like to find good, organized sources, check out MnKnows and put your state’s digital library to use.