The Howard County library is offering a new computer service that allows patrons to search through more than 400 magazines and The New York Times for information.

Instead of using the traditional print indexes, library patrons can now work at a computer terminal, type in the subject they wish to search, press a button and wait to see a list of articles on the subject.

The new reference system, called InfoTrac II, has more than three years of 400-plus magazines, and the most recent three months of The New York Times can be searched for articles on a specific topic. Citations to relevant articles are displayed on a computer screen, and all or part of the list can be printed out at the work station.

Alan Bogage, the reference specialist at the Central Library in Columbia, said the system was chosen after it received good reviews in publications directed toward library services. Baltimore and Montgomery County have the system in their libraries.

The New InfoTrac II system, designed by Information Access Co., is kept up-to-date because a new data base with indexing of the latest issues is delivered monthly. The data base is recorded by laser on a compact disc, similar to those used for audio recordings. "The system is so easy to use {that} a librarian is not needed to assist patrons," Bogage said.

Bogage says the system's yearly cost of $4,000 includes equipment, computer, monitor and printer.

Each article description contains the title of the article; the name and date of the publication in which it appeared; the author's name, if bylined; the page number on which the article begins, and its length.

Howard County Library Director Marvin Thomas said he selected the system for its broad range of coverage and ease of use.

"People often request the most recent information on a subject, and this may only be available in magazines or journals," he said. "InfoTrac II is an easy to use system that will help search a wide range of sources, and increase our ability to respond to patrons' needs."

The InfoTrac II system is located in the periodicals area, on the second floor of the Howard County Central Library, and will be put in branch libraries in the near future, Bogage said.