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Public libraries saving millions
with information sharing program

Spreading the Wealth

"The Internet offers a wealth of information," is a tired, worn-out phrase, but a program operated by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) is making it easier for more than 600 of the state's academic and public libraries to spread that wealth while saving millions of dollars.

A consortium of about 50 state colleges and universities pooled their finances to create the TexShare program in the late 1980s so they could purchase joint access to online research databases for less money than if they bought access individually.

Originally run by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the 1997 Texas Legislature shifted the responsibility for TexShare to TSLAC. The Legislature also permitted community colleges and independent universities to join so they could expand their research capabilities while taking advantage of the savings.

The 1999 Legislature then allowed public libraries to participate in TexShare. Finally in 2001, libraries of clinical medicine, such as the Texas Medical Association's Library, the Baylor Health Science Center Library and the Scott & White Hospital were accepted as TexShare members. By April 2002, 460 public libraries, 274 academic libraries and 37 state agencies were participating in TexShare at no cost to their own budgets.

Sixty databases
TexShare offers its 634 member libraries and their patrons access to about 60 online databases and an extensive e-book collection of about 19,000 titles, according to Beverley Shirley, TSLAC's director of Library Resource Sharing.

"From July 2001 to June 2002, it would have cost the libraries participating in TexShare more than $600 million to purchase the database subscriptions and e-books that TexShare bought for about $10 million," Shirley says. "The databases, if purchased individually by each library, would have cost the libraries nearly $130 million and the e-book collection, if purchased separately, would have cost the libraries more than $473 million."

One of the most popular of the 60 databases among both academic and public library users is Electric Library. This database offers information from reference books, newspapers, television shows, magazines and radio stations. In April 2002 alone, the TexShare members used the Electric Library more than 56,000 times. During those visits, users viewed nearly 200,000 documents and conducted more than 100,000 searches for information.

Other popular databases include netLibrary, booksinprint.com, Business Wire News and Medline. Remote access TexShare, which has an annual budget of about $10 million, began a major push in fiscal 2001 to make patrons of its member libraries aware that they could access the databases and the e-book collection from their homes or offices. This feature can be particularly helpful to full-time researchers and students.

While TexShare is open to public libraries and their patrons, its heaviest users are still those affiliated with higher education.

"Our calculations show that approximately 79 percent of the database use is by academic libraries, and approximately 21 percent is by public libraries," Shirley says.

Statistics tell story
TSLAC tracks how many searches are conducted and how many documents are viewed on TexShare. At college and university libraries, TSLAC reports that TexShare users' searches for specific information have more than tripled, from nearly 400,000 in April 1999 to more than 1.7 million in April 2002.

At public libraries, TexShare's growth in popularity is also apparent, with searches growing tenfold, from about 27,000 in April 1999 to more than 328,000 in April 2002.

Some new TexShare members realize benefits quickly.

"About the time that we gained access to the TexShare databases, I received a request from our medical director asking about an article he had heard about in a newspaper concerning home dialysis," says Penny Worley, director of Scott and White Memorial Hospital's BioMedia Services. "In a matter of minutes I was able to get the article to him. Also, we used a TexShare database to retrieve articles about papers that were being presented at a recent oncology meeting and were able to get the information to some of our folks while the meeting was still going on."

Multiple benefits
TexShare is indispensable from a librarian's viewpoint, according to Mark Allan, head of the reference section of Angelo State University's Porter Henderson Library.

"It has three components that benefit our patrons," Allan says. "The first is its databases, which are useful to our students no matter what their degree plan or assignments."

Allan says the faculty also uses the databases, as do members of the community.

"We have citizens who are not affiliated with Angelo State who use the databases, and schoolchildren, too," he says.

The second component is Texexpress, which provides a courier service among universities and public libraries, enabling them to send and share materials and resources, such as scholarly articles, books or videos.

"This service saves us a great deal in postage," Allan says. While TexShare membership is free, for some items, such as the courier service, a fee is charged.

"The third benefit is the TexShare card, which enables patrons at participating libraries to check out materials at other institutions," Allan says. "If one of our students has a card, then they can go to another TexShare member library that participates in the card program and check out books and other resources. It also helps that students can log online and get this information from their dorm rooms or their homes or offices. They don't have to come to the library to do their research, and they can perform that research 24/7--even when the library is closed."

Cost savings
Shirley says rural libraries and small libraries couldn't afford the cost of the databases on their small budgets, so TexShare is enabling them to save millions, while providing out-of-the-way library patrons access to a larger world.

"I find TexShare extremely valuable, but the public doesn't use it as much as they could," says Brenna Manasco, interim director of the public library in Orange, Texas. "There is so much that I haven't even begun to use all the databases. I use booksinprint.com for my own library research, and I also use netLibrary, which is a compilation of e-books. NetLibrary is helpful to people because after they set up an account, they can use netLibrary from their own homes or offices."

Smaller colleges with less financial clout than the state's flagship research institutions also reap rewards.

"TexShare is so important to us at Angelo State because it gives us access to databases we could not otherwise afford," Allan says. "We don't have the fiscal resources of a Texas A&M or a University of Texas, but TexShare gives us a common denominator of core resources--a parity if you will--for our students and faculty as well as all students and faculty in the state. It also offers us tremendous cost savings. Libraries are saving millions of dollars in electronic resources through the discount we get by cooperative buying."

For more information on TexShare, visit www.texshare.edu.

Pam Wagner