A new library of sorts

Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 10:05pm

The shelves inside the Tennessee State Library and Archives Building in downtown Nashville are sturdy. For years they’ve accommodated heavy books that were once the main reference sources for all things Tennessee. Those books — and newspapers, maps, microfiche and microfilm — are valuable tools for more reasons than can be easily cataloged. 

But in 2011, the Tennessee Electronic Library offers for the first time an alternative: an online collection of about 400,000 resources, including about 150 million articles, videos, e-books and podcasts available to Tennesseans with Internet access. A Knoxville resident, for example, can use TEL to learn about genealogy, jobs and property records — without traveling to the 1953 building in which Wendy Cornelisen toils. 

“My 2011 goal is to spread the word about TEL even further,” said Cornelisen, TEL coordinator. “We’ve done a good job of letting librarians know. But I’m trying to get the word out to the general public.”

Started in 1999, TEL spends about $1.5 million annually for the materials it provides. According to a recently updated study, elementary schools, high schools, colleges and public libraries collectively would need to spend more than $94 million per year, on average, for those resources. 

So TEL is an extraordinarily useful bargain, then? 

“We get a lot of people telling us … how important TEL is to the services they provide,” Cornelisen said. “For many locations, TEL is the only electronic resource they can provide to students or patrons.”

It’s also a font of interesting citizen stories and feedback. 

Cornelisen mentioned a Memphis secretary who, after being laid off, used TEL to practice for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam and start a new career. She recalled a graduate student whose financing fell through but was able with TEL to score well enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam to enter the Army’s Officer Candidate School via the Student Loan Repayment program. And she talked about a Middle Tennessee-area third-grader who shared his thoughts on TEL, noting the service was “fun” and “really not that bad.”