Volume II Number 2, May 1995

What is the Internet Public Library, and Why Should I Care?

Sara Ryan
Internet Public Library

Internet Public Library, n. abbrev. IPL;

  1. a site on the World-
  2. Wide Web, address http://ipl.sils.umich.edu/
  3. an overwhelming, >exhausting, exciting project.
  4. a library, consisting of four divisions: Education, Youth, Services for Librarians and Information Professionals, and Reference.

Let me start by quoting from our mission statement:

"the Library itself exists to:

What does all of this mean in terms of what the IPL can provide for users with disabilities? To answer this question, I'll take you on a division-by-division tour of the IPL. Along the way, I'll tell you about ways in which you can contribute to the IPL to help us become an increasingly useful resource.

Division-By-Division Tour

When you point your Web browser at "http://ipl.sils.umich.edu/", you will arrive at our "lobby"; a homepage which contains both an imagemap with links to the library's divisions, and a link to a text-only version of the IPL. It was important to us to make the library accessible in a text-only version because we wanted to be able to reach more users. The text-only IPL does at least three things: it lets us reach people using lynx or other non-graphical Web browsers, it provides faster access for people with low bandwidth (who don't have to wait for images to load), and, most relevant for this community, it lets blind users access the IPL without having to worry about how their speech programs will deal with images.

We'll be taking the text-only tour, but users should be aware that each of the text-only pages contains a link to a version in "full graphical splendor," and vice versa.

(Note: The text-only IPL has been navigated successfully using the Berkeley Systems speech program OutSpoken for Macintosh. We are interested in hearing of any problems encountered by people using other speech programs to navigate the IPL; please write to ipl@umich.edu.)


The Education Division has no direct link from the homepage, but you can go to its Classroom or to the Exhibit Hall it sponsors.

I quote from the Classroom page: "The IPL Classroom is a space to discover more about the Internet and to encourage educational discussions among a wide variety of people...We are making plans to create an interactive educational environment. The interactive classroom will be a place that people enter to learn about computing, especially the Internet. Instructors will provide tutorials, ongoing lessons, and answers to students' questions."

The Exhibit Hall is currently hosting some exhibits from the Museum of African-American History in Detroit, Michigan.

The Education Division depends on input from our community of users. The Division would love to provide tutorials on computing for the disabled, or an exhibit of enabling technologies, but they need outside expertise. If you are interested in helping the Education Division in any way, please write to ipl.outreach@umich.edu.


The Youth division is committed to making the Internet fun for children, using two guides, J.J. the Librarian and Bookie the Bookworm. They currently provide access to a number of stories, one of which, "Molly Whuppie," includes voice narration. They sponsor a set of pages called "Ask the Author" which contains biographical information provided by authors from Lois Lowry to Robert Cormier. They maintain a discussion list on which children can discuss books. "Doctor Internet" helps kids explore science and math Internet resources. The Youth Division is also holding a contest called "Put My Story On The World Wide Web"; they are soliciting stories from children 4-14. Winning stories will become part of the Youth Division's "collection." Write to the IPL Youth Division at ipl.youth@umich.edu.


From the Services homepage: "The Services Division of the IPL is an interactive forum for librarians and information professionals to share their knowledge and experiences with their colleagues. We all have valuable ideas to offer the profession, and the Services Division provides a place for this exchange." This Division features on-the-job resources, discussions about libraries and technology, professional development for librarians, issues of interest to librarians and information professionals, and reviews of information products. Write to the IPL Services for Librarians and Information Professionals Division at ipl.svcs@umich.edu.


I've saved Reference for last, both because our resources may be of the most immediate use to disabled patrons, and, selfishly, because Reference is the division with which I'm affiliated, and I want to show it off. We currently provide two main services: access to a Ready Reference Collection, and an email-based facility for patrons to ask us reference questions. Soon we will be adding an interactive reference environment. The Ready Reference Collection has resources in the following areas: General Reference, Business/Economics, Computers, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Government & Law, Health & Nutrition, Humanities, Internet, Libraries & Librarians, News/Current Events, Science, and Social Issues & Social Services. Each resource consists of a hypertext link to a resource, a paragraph describing the resource, the author of the resource (sometimes with an email address), and keywords which can be used to search the collection with our experimental search engine. As an example resource, in our Social Issues and Social Services collection, there is a section on disability-related information. One of the resources available is the full text of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Reference Division is interested in recruiting librarians to help us answer questions, and non-librarians to serve as subject experts in any number of areas. For further information about volunteering to assist the Reference Division, send mail to me, sryan@umich.edu.

Why Should I Care?

I hope I've already made it clear from my description why you should care. The IPL is a collaborative enterprise, and the more collaboration we get, the better an enterprise it will be. So come visit us. Write to us. Ask us reference questions. We look forward to hearing from you!

Ryan, S. (1995). What is the Internet Public Library, and why should I care? Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 2(2).