Virtual visitors get one genuinely new service - a look at the truth behind recent medical stories, provided by the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination in York.

The facility is designed for busy GPs confronted with patients waving sheaves of information off the Internet and demanding the latest miracle cures.

But it should be pretty useful for patients looking for solid information, as well.

From the homepage, visitors have to go to the various 'floors' to find the other services on offer. This is the equivalent of walking into the Bodleian and then having to navigate miles of medieval corridors to find the right reading room for the book required. What the NeLH lacks is a search engine to whip visitors straight to the information they are looking for.

'There are different sorts of search engine, 'says Mr Bladen. 'There is the Ask Jeeves sort, where you ask a question and it comes back with 30 things that don't quite answer it but look a bit like what you typed in, and there is the Yahoo! idea, where you type in something like 'asthma' and get 30,000 answers back.

'We have a pilot starting shortly to look at just what is available. If we can get something that does 90 per cent of what we want it to, we will try to adapt it. If we can't, we will try to develop it ourselves, but we would prefer not to.'

The pilot, meanwhile, has started without any form of search engine. Mr Bladen says that if the library opened with a poor search engine which people did not like, they might never come back. He is hopeful one will be in place before the end of the pilot in 12 months'time. The Athens registration system should also be up and running by then. or