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Automation Issues for Unautomated Libraries

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1. Weed and Update Your Card Catalog or Shelflist


First things first. Weed thoroughly so you have a clean and current collection. There is no use spending time and money on items that should be discarded. This manual process is the key first step to automating. (See Weeding.)

Check your current printed record of what's in the library to see that it is accurate and organized. If you plan to use either the card catalog or a shelflist in your retrospective conversion process (see Step 5 below), you will need either LC and/or ISBN numbers on the card which is to be used for the matching process.

Librarians who automate without doing this first crucial step are sorry later.


2. Ask Yourself some Questions About why you Want to Automate and Write Down the Answers


Don't just hop on the automation bandwagon if your library is very, very small. Determine what problems you are trying to solve and know what you hope to gain by automating. Is your collection large enough to make it easier to manage by automating? How is your circulation done? Is your library always staffed when it is open, or do staff and students come in unsupervised to check out materials? Do you belong to a district that intends to eventually combine all the school catalogs to form a union catalog? Is there a possibility that you can resource share with public or other nearby libraries? The key question is - how will automating serve your patrons? You may be able to come up with more questions of your own. Write down the answers so that you can look back in the middle of the sometimes arduous automation process and remember why you decided to do this in the first place! If your collection is VERY old and no longer supports the curriculum and you only check out a few books a week, maybe the money that might be spent automating your library would be better spent on new books for your students. Then when your library becomes active, you will want to evaluate the need for automation.


And, remember, automating can provide better service but it doesn't usually save money.


3. Get Your Staff On Board


Automating will change the way your library operates and will certainly take lots of your time and attention while it is being done, so you need to prepare your staff and administration for the inevitable upsets of equipment tie-ups and misplaced materials. Explain how automating will improve service for them and have small celebrations when various parts of the project are done. If it is possible for your staff or especially your principal to visit other automated libraries, it will help to give them a realistic view of what to expect.


4. Get a General Idea of Which Systems you are Considering


There are many library automation systems on the market; some specialize by type of library, some are more expensive than others, certainly some are better than others. Some key considerations are listed later in "Important Considerations in Choosing an Automated System for Your Library".


If you are considering a system that costs over $10,000, you should perform a full-fledged systems analysis to determine your needs, perhaps a written Request for Proposals (RFP), and, in general, a more formal and rigorous planning process.


5. Convert Title Records into Machine-Readable Records

(OR how to get from catalog cards and/or a shelflist to MARC records which can be loaded into an automated system)


This is a very important step because the resulting machine-readable records will become your DATABASE which is your most important automation asset. The system you choose will eventually be replaced with another system (yes, it's true!) but the records in your database will endure and will be transferred into that new system. It is important that these records accurately reflect the items in your collection. It is equally important that they be in the USMARC standard format for easy transfer among systems.


This step is usually referred to as RETROSPECTIVE CONVERSION. You have some options here - some are cheaper/easier/faster than others…although, as usual, not all of those attributes are usually found together in any one option.




    • This seems like the cheapest option and it may well be, IF you can get accurate and careful volunteers to do it. If you are using paid staff, however, you must calculate not only their salaries and benefits, but the overhead of providing work space, providing someone to do other work which is not getting done because they're devoting time to THIS project, etc. It may not be cheaper after all. Some administrators would rather have your time spent on this kind of work than be required to find other funds to pay for the re-con to be done. Be sure to discuss with your principal all of the kinds of work that you will not be able to do while the automation project goes on. On the other hand, you will become intimately acquainted with your collection and may be able to do more weeding and cleaning as you enter records. You (or your volunteers) will need to be trained to enter MARC records so that your database meets standards when you are finished.


    • This is not usually the fast or the easy option. Talk to someone at a library roughly your size who has done it. The Alaska State Library can help you find someone to consult.




    • If you have an reasonable up-to-date shelflist (a list or card file of all the books in the library—one card per title) AND you can find a vendor that has MARC records for your type of collection, this is the easy option.


    • Since vendors charge for each record they create (in the neighborhood of $.75-$1.50), this is not a terribly cheap option. Depending on the vendor and the time of the year you choose, it can be fast or slow. If you plan to get the re-con done in the summer, make arrangements far ahead, since most other school libraries will want this time option, too.




    • This is the middle road - easier and faster than OPTION 1, probably cheaper than OPTION 2 but not as fast. And there are pitfalls. You will want standard USMARC records and you will need to choose an online database with records that will match your collection. Very old or very unusual collections do not usually match or "hit" very well in this option. (Vendors refer to a "hit rate". A "90% hit rate" means that you expect to be able to find 90% of the items in your collection by searching the online database. The other 10% will require original cataloging and usually must be input by hand.) You must have or will need a computer with an internet connection to use this option.


    • One possibility in the past was LaserCat from OCLC, which was used by many Alaska Network member, but the vendor of this CD-ROM product is no longer producing it. There are many other online cataloging products available as well including BiblioFile, Alliance Plus from Follett, BESTMARC from MITINET, MARCIVE www.marcive.com and BookWhere http://www.webclarity.info/products/bookwhere/.


6. Convert Patron Information to Machine-Readable Records


This is a necessary step if you are going to have automated circulation or an integrated library system with online catalog, circulation, etc. In school districts, these records usually already exist in machine-readable form. Then it can be a matter of converting them to a format that your library automation system can use. The vendor can usually guide you on this step. However, you or your volunteers can type in your patron (students, staff, other borrowers) information, especially in a small school. Your school may have guidelines about which student information can be handled by volunteers. Be sure you check with your principal about this.


Budget for Ongoing Annual Costs; Plan Your Upgrade Path


As you make plans for your first automated system, budget for the ongoing costs of keeping the system going. Hard as it may be to imagine right now, recognize that you will probably need to replace or upgrade this system within five years. Your database, which represents your collection, is your long-term asset, not the software or the hardware. Make sure that database is as clean and as standard as you can make it so you can easily move it to another system when the time comes. Because the database is such an investment of labor and money, be sure that you have budgeted and worked out a secure way to back it up. (Will you burn CD’s or DVD’s, run tapes, or back it up on a different server? Be sure that you have the supplies and permissions on an ongoing basis to protect this valuable resource.)  You will need to talk to your IT or tech person to make sure that they help you work out a regular and safe way to backup your system records and to keep these backups in another location.  Some schools have actually lost years and years of work invested in their online system, because they did not make an off-site backup of their data.


Important Considerations in Choosing an Automated System for Your Library


Adherence to standards


  • USMARC Communications Format for bibliographic, authority and holdings records
  • Open System Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model
  • X.25 Protocols
  • ANSI standard programming language
  • Open Architecture - non-proprietary operating system
  • Common command language, interlibrary loan and emerging patron record standards
  • Z39.50 protocol for information transfer between systems


Reputation and financial health of the vendor: Support from the vendor


  • Are there 800 numbers, adequate training, helpful manuals, online HELP capabilities?
  • If the vendor is on the East Coast, are you on your own after lunchtime in Alaska because of the four-hour time difference from Alaska?
  • Are there other school library users in Alaska who may be able to offer support in your unique situation? (Your State Library School Library Coordinator  can help you find this information.) 
  • What sort of initial training is offered with your purchase of the product and what sort of additional training can be purchased from the vendor? At what cost?


Source: Susan Elliott, previous Alaska State Library Automation Librarian, revised by Sue Sherif 2008


Selected Library Automation Vendors: School Library Systems

*Listing does not constitute a recommendation. Names in parenthesis are some of the systems these companies have offered. Some may be used in your school, but no longer sold. Open source vendors offer free or low-cost software, but your school district must invest the time to set up the system for your use.


Auto-graphics Inc http://www4.auto-graphics.com/

Book Systems Inc http://www.booksys.com/

CASPR Library Systems (Library World) http://www.libraryworld.com

Companion (Alexandria) http://www.companioncorp.com/

Evergreen (open source): http://open-ils.org/

Follett Software Company (Destiny, Unison, Circulation Plus, Catalog Plus, Sagebrush, Winnebago)


Jaywil Software Development Inc. (Resource Mate) http://www.resourcemate.com/

Koha Open Source http://www.koha.org/

Lex Systems, Inc http://www.lex.sk.ca/index.html

Library Concepts (PC Card Catalog) http://www.libraryconcepts.com/

SIRSI/Dynix Corporation (Horizon, Unicorn) http://www.sirsidynix.com

TLC School Library Solutions http://www.tlcdelivers.com/


These are not all of the automation systems past or present, but represent ones currently used in Alaska school libraries. 

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