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Connect @ the Library

Have you hugged your cybrarian today? Don't be put off by the cyberspace-librarian nickname. Librarians are still the kindly folks who used to record young borrowers' names with a No. 2 pencil. Or the firm guardians of the word in the British Library and France's Bibliothque Nationale, two great institutions preparing to move into vast new buildings.

But today's librarians are also keying and clicking on the Internet, sharing resources so that no library is an island - each is a piece of humanity's common memory. And these cybrarians are bringing the rest of us along.

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US libraries announced Internet demonstrations for "Log on @ the Library" Day (April 16), using e-mail's @ "at" sign. It's part of National Library Week, whose theme - "Kids Connect @ the Library" - celebrates all the ways libraries serve children.

As for grownups, Americans are playing a role in "the world's leading resource for scholarship, research, and innovation," as the British Library calls itself, with or without British understatement. Its chief executive, Brian Lang, stressed transatlantic ties on a recent Boston visit:

The library's most important printed holding, the Tyndale New Testament of 1526, is on tour in the US.

Every August, Americans occupy no less than 60 percent of the desks (total 361) among the gliterati in the fabled Round Reading Room.

And the library's 250 miles of bookshelves contain so much American material - thanks, in part, to benefactors in the American Trust for the British Library - that European scholars can simply cross the British Channel to study America.

Readers will need only 2-1/2 hours to travel by rail between the new libraries in Paris and London when the St. Pancras terminal of the Channel Tunnel is completed.

These libraries, of course, will be accessible on the Web. But, despite all the cyberconnections, we're glad people still want to get to libraries in person. No wonder all those Americans on sabbatical visit the Round Reading Room - that "inner circle of learning," in novelist A.S. Byatt's words, which a young scholar compares to "Dante's Paradiso, in which the saints and patriarchs and virgins sat in orderly ranks in a circular formation...."

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Another reminder of what libraries are for is the shape of the corner towers of the new Paris library - each an open book standing on end. And what is the form of the American Library Association's "Cybrarian's Manual" for Internet users? Ta-taaa! - a book.

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