Campus-wide facility will allow quicker searches and aid student productivity The University of Hong Kong (HKU) Libraries has launched a wireless access system that will allow students and faculty to use library resources from anywhere on the campus. Launched informally last month, the system - MyLibrary@Hand - uses a wireless local area network (LAN) and the Java programming language to access via a palm Tungsten C PDA the Sun Microsystems server containing a database of information about the library, including books, periodicals, events and contact numbers. It will allow up to 700,000 users to search for more than two million publications. The system was built by integrator Syracuse International, Palm and Sun in tandem with the university. Librarian Anthony Ferguson said the system would enhance the use of the library and make it easier for students to access its resources. 'The library is an important part of university life and, historically, students need to spend a considerable amount of time onsite in the library to access its resources and services,' he said. ' MyLibrary@Hand revolutionises the traditional concept of the library.' Mr Ferguson said this new system would also save time. 'Previously, it would take around 30 minutes for students to search three different databases using the library PCs. Now the same search can be conducted in only 30 seconds using the Tungsten C handheld from any Wi-Fi location,' he said. The plan is to develop the system in two stages, the first of which went live last month. The initial stage includes personalisation features to automatically notify users of relevant new material. Users can also fill in library forms from the wireless network instead of having to visit the library. The second stage, planned for December, will include an expanded database that will allow users to reserve items and view more detailed abstracts or read e-journals. Professor John Spinks, pro-vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, said the 'library without walls' would be a great benefit to the student body. 'The HKU Libraries are at an international level. Our goal is to provide the best technology and education available. This is the first such system in Hong Kong,' he said. Danny Lai, the vice-president of marketing at Syracuse, said the system would save users a lot of time. 'Heavy use of the library does pay off. The time you spend in finding the material you are looking for is often longer than the time you spend reading it,' he said. Mr Lai said his job took him to many universities in the region and HKU was a technology leader. 'The HKU Libraries are a clear winner in my experience. This solution is, I believe, the first of its kind in Asia,' he said. Sun donated a server to run the service and Danny Tam, the company's Hong Kong general manager, said a long history of co-operation existed between Sun and the university. 'There is a lot of emotional linkage to this project for me because I, too, am an alumni of this university,' he said. 'Sun has also had a long history with the university. The first Java Centre in Hong Kong was opened here. 'We share a common vision in network computing.' Mr Tam said the reputation of a university often depended on its research facilities. 'This new system will help that greatly.' Although the technology at present works only on the Tungsten C, because it is Java-based it should work on any device that supports Java, including some mobile phones. The university said it would also be looking at other platforms.