Virtual library coming soon?
Gates Foundation may invest in North

Cindy MacDougall
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 18/99) - A little bit of the Microsoft fortune may soon be coming to a library near you.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will announce at the end of the month whether it will fund a proposal to update the computer technology in the NWT's nine libraries and start a "virtual library."

Jane Peart, manager of information networks for the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, said the proposal outlines ways of expanding library computer services, both at the libraries and to people in communities without a library.

"Nothing's been nailed down yet," she said. "We are proposing to the foundation a sort of virtual library, using technology to reach people who are in the smaller communities."

She said the virtual library would be an online library system, with computer work stations in public places in the communities.

The computers would also be hooked up to Library Services' online database of books.

"Then we can open the wealth of knowledge of our libraries to people, as well as distance learning through the Internet, and borrowing books through the mail," Peart said.

Peart said she wanted to keep other details of the proposal, including the cost, quiet until she heard from the foundation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an American charitable organization started by the Microsoft founder and his wife. They donate funds to scholarships and other educational causes.

Library Services already has an online database that lists all the libraries' collections, said Brian Dawson, director of Library Services.

"The online database allows you to search by title, author, subject or keyword," Dawson said.

You can then call Library Services' headquarters in Norman Wells for the Borrow by Mail service. The department will pay to mail you the book, and the return postage when it's time to mail it back.

He said the system helps people in smaller communities have access to library books.

But access to the site, at, is limited to anyone with access to a computer.

Peart said the virtual library may solve that problem.

"It's not a perfect solution, it's not like having a library in the community, but it's one solution," she said.

As for established libraries, new computers with Internet access would be welcome, said Marilyn Barnes, head librarian at the Centennial Library in Hay River.

"We have three Internet computers right now," she said, "and our two Macs sometimes don't connect to the Internet."

She said the Internet computers are used heavily, and more PC models would help both the librarians and the public.

"People are used to (PC) computers more than Macs," Barnes said.

"And we're not computer scientists. We would like to have people who could come in and fix the computers when they won't work."