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November 2009, Volume 1, Issue 11

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Library Development

Automating for the first time or upgrading your current automation system?

By Colleen Kirby

If you are thinking about automating your library or upgrading your current library automation system there are several things that you need to consider. Selecting and implementing an automated library system is a time consuming process. It can also be a relatively expensive process depending on what you want to accomplish by automating the library. An automation system can be used to catalog the library’s materials, provide the means for patrons to search for those materials, keep track of items loaned, and provide reports and statistics.

Whether you are automating your library for the first time, or upgrading to a new automation system, planning is key. The first step in selecting a library automation system is to review the library’s technology plan. The technology plan will form the basis for selecting an automated library system. The technology plan will help you identify which automated library system and services will best meet the needs of your users. Your library should already have a technology plan. If the library does not have a technology plan you will want to create one. At the end of this article are some resources that will assist you in creating a technology plan.

To help determine what your library’s needs are, develop a library profile. The library profile will contain such information as collection size, material formats, number of patrons, annual circulation, number of staff who will use the system, etc. The profile will help determine what the library requires of an automation system.

You will also need to consider how many computers the library currently has. Are there enough computers to support a new automation system? You might want at least one computer dedicated to searching the Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC). You will also need one computer for staff to enter records, edit records, and check material in and out. If you are upgrading to a new system, will your computers support the new automation system? Automation vendors can provide you with the system requirements for their product. Is there room in the library to accommodate more computers? Will it require additional wiring? Does the library have high-speed Internet access? If the library has wireless, you will want to make sure the system is secure. What technical support service does the library have? Do you contract with a company, or does staff handle all technology problems? Be sure you know what technical support the automation vendor provides and get it in writing.

You will want to review the library’s circulation records. Will an automation vendor’s circulation system handle the amount of circulation you have? You will also need to know how many registered borrowers you have and what categories of patrons you are using or want to use in the future (adults, children, etc.). Review the circulation activities that the library staff is currently completing. How are these processes handled in the various automation systems that you are reviewing? How many new items does the library add annually? Knowing the number of items the library purchases annually will help an automation vendor determine the library’s on-going costs.

You will also want to look at the needs of your community. When you review your community, look at the population you serve. This is not only the total number but also the demographics. How many senior citizens, teens, children, minorities, do you serve? What are the needs of your community? Do citizens need to travel long distances to use the library? If the answer is yes, you will want a Web-based automation system which will allow library users to access the catalog from home. If your school is part of the laptop initiative that is yet another reason to consider a Web-based automation system.

One question you have to answer is what modules of an automated library system you want for your library. Some modules that are available are Circulation, Cataloging, Online Public Access Catalog, Acquisitions, Serials, Interlibrary Loan, Reports and Inventory. At a minimum you will want the Circulation, Cataloging and OPAC modules. If you are upgrading to a new automation system are there modules that you currently do not have that you would like to have?

Some automated library systems are in-house only, while some are Web-based. An in-house system is an automation system that can only be used on specific computers within the library. It is not available via the Internet. An in-house system does not offer the library user as much flexibility as the Web-based system. Today there are few automation systems that are in-house only. Most automation systems are Web-based or have the option for you to purchase a Web-based version. A Web-based system is available via the Internet. It allows library users to view the library catalog from home/school/work, anywhere they have Internet access. A Web-based system also has the capability of communicating with other libraries’ automation systems. Although a Web-based automation system provides more flexibility for the library user, it is more expensive than an in-house system and it does require dependable Internet access.

The security of an automated library system is very important. If the automation system is going to reside at the library, you need to make sure security measures are in place. If the data will be residing with the vendor ask the vendor how the system data is protected, what is the backup system, how often backup is performed, and how the system is restored after a system failure. All library automation vendors should have security measures in place to insure that loss of data does not happen.

It is important that automation vendors be in compliance with current automation standards. Ask vendors if they are Z39.50 compliant. Z39.50 is an international standard for communication between two computers systems, usually library or information systems. Z39.50 makes it possible to search multiple library catalogs and other resources in one search, and bring back one set of results. In order for libraries to search other catalogs, such as the Library of Congress, and to import records from that catalog into their catalog Z39.50 compliance is required. You will also want to make sure that automation vendors are using MARC 21 bibliographic records. MARC is the acronym for Machine-Readable Cataloging. It provides the mechanism by which computers exchange, use and interpret bibliographic information.

You will also need to consider how you will run the automation software. Will your library purchase a server to run the automated library system? Will you load the software on individual computers? Will you go with an application service provider (ASP)? With an ASP an off-site server hosts the electronic assets of the library with access to the server provided through Internet connectivity on dedicated lines. The technical expertise is provided by the ASP. However it does depend on reliable Internet connectivity and you must assure that the vendor is providing adequate backup of the library’s data.

The library’s budget is a major consideration when considering automating the library. Library automation systems can cost anywhere from $200 to $500,000. Some vendors also charge an annual fee. Another cost to consider is the future need to update to a new version of the automation system. At some point your vendor might stop supporting the version of the software that you have.

There are grants available that the library can apply for, or the library can hold fund raisers to help fund the initial automation project, but there will be ongoing costs that will have to be identified and covered in the library’s budget. Keep in mind that automating the library collection will provide better service to library users. It will not save the library money. You also need to look at the services you want to be able to provide to your library users. The cheapest system is not the best option if it does not provide good service to your library users.

In addition to the initial cost of the automation system some things to consider in overall costs are additional staff fees, hardware purchases, software purchases, network costs, retrospective conversion and training costs.

If staff numbers are limited you may have to hire temporary staff to assist with the implementation process. If you have adequate staff you may have to consider paying them for additional hours of work. It is against the law for paid staff to volunteer their time. If staff works beyond their regular hours they must be paid for those additional hours.

Both the purchasing process and the implementation process can be time consuming. For most libraries hiring a consultant or paying staff overtime is not realistic. Another option for your library might be to use volunteers. Remember that the volunteers must be well trained, or they will end up costing the library additional money. That means you will have to take the time to create step-by-step procedures and provide training for the volunteers. Volunteers can provide a real resource, but it does require time on your part.

Library automation vendors will identify for you the minimum computer requirements needed to support their automation system. This might require purchasing additional hardware including a server and additional computers.

Once you have decided on the number of computers, you need to identify the components you will need for each one including processor speed, disk space, memory (RAM), removable disk drives, read/write CD drives and USB ports for peripheral devices. In addition to a server and computers you might also need to purchase printers, barcode scanners and cabling.

Converting a paper-based catalog into electronic form is called retrospective conversion. One option for retrospective conversion is for the library staff to enter each bibliographic record into the online catalog. Even if the staff can download records from the vendor or from other libraries this is still a time consuming process. You might want to enlist the aid of volunteers to assist with the retrospective conversion. Just remember that volunteers will need to be very well trained if you want the online catalog to be accurate. Another option is to hire a company that does retrospective conversion, or having your automation vendor do the retrospective conversion. Not all automation vendors provide this service. Prices for conversion services range from 15 to 50 cents per item. An average cost for a collection of 3,000 items would be $1,500.

There are additional costs that you will need to consider. The system hardware will require maintenance. Be sure to include ongoing maintenance costs in your budget. Will you need more computer workstations? There is also the ongoing cost of purchasing barcodes.

Once you have decided what you need from an automation system you will want to begin familiarizing yourself with the automation vendors who can meet your library’s needs. Visit with librarians that have already automated and have collections that are comparable in size to your library. Familiarize yourself with the various automation vendors. How many customers do they have? What services do they provide? When were they established? At the end of this article you will find a list of resources that can provide you with information about automation vendors.

If you have a large library you will write a Request for Proposal or RFP. The RFP asks vendors to submit a formal proposal that describes if and how they meet your specifications, when they can provide the system, and for what price. Responses from vendors may include pricing, enhancements, implementation plan and timeline. Smaller libraries may not write an RFP, but it is still a good idea to know what is included in an RFP. It gives you an idea of the questions you should be asking automation vendors. At the end of this article are resources for writing an RFP.

While you are deciding which automation system you will purchase, you can begin preparing your collection for the automation process. There are many things that need to be done, and preparing the collection will take time. Consider who could be involved in assisting with these tasks. Plan and budget for additional staff hours, recruit volunteers and consider after hours scheduling.

Preparing the collection for the automation process includes weeding the collection. Every item added to your automated library system costs money. The last thing you want to do is pay your vendor to convert bibliographic records for items that are out-dated, in poor condition, or do not circulate. If you are converting to a new automation system you will also want to weed. Every item converted from one automation system to another costs money. Consult your weeding policy before you begin weeding. Your collection development policy should have a section on weeding.

If you are going to use the shelflist to create the electronic records for your automated library system then it is vital that the shelflist be as accurate as possible. The shelflist preparation can take place at the same time you are doing inventory since you use the shelflist to inventory the collection.

If you do not have a card catalog then you will have to physically pull each item and use the title page and the title page verso to create your electronic records.

Make sure as many of the following fields as possible are on each shelflist card:

  • ISBN (International Standard Book Number) or ISSN (International Standard Serial Number)
  • Author
  • Title
  • Publisher
  • Publication date

The ISBN will be found on the verso of the title page. The ISBN is a number that uniquely identifies books published internationally. The number will be either a 10 or 13 digit number and it will usually, but not always, have ISBN preceding the number. Not all books will have an ISBN number.

An ISSN is like the ISBN only it is used for magazines. If a magazine has an ISSN you will usually find it in the masthead where you find the publication information.

If the shelflist cards do not have the ISBN, or ISSN, make sure that each card has at least the author, title, publisher and publication date. These four items are an absolute must if you are going to use the shelflist as the source for converting your bibliographic records to electronic format.

As you are preparing the shelflist you will want to inventory the collection. Make sure the shelflist matches the books on the shelves. Also make sure that multiple copies are listed on the shelflist. You will also want to make sure that the call number you have on the shelflist is what is actually on the item. Having accurate information will make the process of converting records from a paper format to an electronic format much faster.

During the inventory process you will find that you have items that are missing or that you do not have a shelflist card for an item that is on the shelf. This happens to all of us. It is a good reason to do inventory before automating. You do not want to pay a vendor for bibliographic records for items that are missing. You also do not want to add incorrect records to your automation system. Taking time to inventory the collection will save you money in the long run.

Once you have decided which automation system you are going to purchase you will want to begin barcoding the collection. Barcoding is the process of assigning a unique item number to each piece that can circulate, and linking that item number to an item record, which in turn is linked to a bibliographic record.

The two main types of barcodes used in libraries are Code 39 and Codabar.

Code 39 was the first alphanumeric symbology to be developed. The rectangle of lines and spaces translates into 10 digits, but they are not displayed. The first digit is used to identify whether the barcode is for a patron or an item. The next two digits identify the institution. The last seven digits are a unique code that represent either a patron or an item.

Codabar barcodes are the most frequently used barcodes in libraries. The rectangle of lines and spaces translates into 14 digits. The first digit is used to identify whether the barcode is for a patron or an item. The next four digits identify the institution. The following eight digits represent patron or item information, and the final digit is an error-checking digit.

Codabar barcodes are the most frequently used barcodes in libraries. The rectangle of lines and spaces translates into 14 digits. The first digit is used to identify whether the barcode is for a patron or an item. The next four digits identify the institution. The following eight digits represent patron or item information, and the final digit is an error-checking digit.

Libraries that are part of the South Dakota Library Network use Codabar barcodes. To provide consistency across the state it is recommended that all South Dakota libraries use Codabar barcodes. It is also recommended that before ordering barcodes, libraries contact the South Dakota Library Network. The staff at SDLN can assign your library a barcode number. Your library does not have to be an SDLN member to receive this free service. Making use of this service guarantees that your library’s barcode number will not duplicate another library’s barcode number. It also ensures that should a library want to join SDLN in the future their barcodes will be compatible. The SDLN staff can be contacted at 1-800-245-5690 or staff@sdln.net.

Another decision you will have to make regarding barcodes is whether to use “smart” or “dumb” barcodes. Library barcode labels are classified as either "smart" or "dumb." Dumb barcode labels are also referred to as "generic" labels.

Smart barcodes are always applied prior to bringing up the circulation module. Dumb barcodes can be applied prior to bringing up the circulation module or at the time the item is checked-out. Smart barcodes have item numbers that are assigned by computer during the item field build on the basis of copy and volume holdings appearing in the bibliographic record. Because they are preassigned by machine to specific items in the database, the library staff does not have to manually link barcode numbers to item records. Smart barcodes are more expensive than dumb barcodes because the barcode is linked to the bibliographic record by machine. Each item in the collection will have its own barcode and library staff must make sure they put the right barcode on the right item. The biggest advantage to smart barcodes is the time that is saved by the library staff. If your library decides to purchase smart barcodes, remember that you will still need to purchase dumb barcodes for new items.

Dumb barcodes are less expensive to purchase. With dumb barcodes it does not matter which barcode is put on which item. Each barcode will be linked to a bibliographic record by the creation of an item record. Linking the barcode to the item is labor intensive because it is done manually. The time it will take to link barcodes to items needs to be taken into consideration when deciding whether to use smart or dumb barcodes. Volunteers can be used to create the item record. If you decide to use volunteers they must be well trained. It can take hours to correct problems that are created when someone makes a mistake in an item record.

In deciding whether to use smart or dumb barcodes, a good rule of thumb is to use dumb barcodes if your library has a collection of less than 10,000 items. Dumb barcodes are also recommended if you have a lot of multiple copies and non-specific call numbers such as FIC.

One way to make the barcoding process easier is to purchase duplicate barcodes - one for the shelflist card and the other for the item. Each time you barcode an item, barcode the shelflist card as well. For duplicate copies, barcode duplicates on the same shelflist card. When you do retrospective conversion, you will have the barcode for the item record on the shelflist card and you will not need to pull the book from the shelf. This works well if you use dumb barcodes.

If one of the modules you are purchasing is the circulation module you will also need barcodes for library patrons. You can purchase these barcodes from the same vendor that you purchase your item barcodes from. You will also want to purchase patron library cards.

If you are lucky, your library automation system vendor will also provide barcodes. If they do provide barcodes be sure to tell them what number you want on the barcodes as your library identification number. Remember, this is the number that you will get from the South Dakota Library Network.

If your vendor does not provide barcodes you will need to select a barcode vendor. There are several things to consider when choosing a vendor:

  1. Barcode label vendors should be selected on basis of quality of product provided and ability to produce barcodes that meet specifications.
  2. Vendors should provide a warranty/guarantee of product quality.
  3. A written contract including specifications, cost, maximum time for delivery after purchase is received, and warranty should be negotiated with the vendor.

You will need to purchase barcode scanners to read the barcodes that you purchase. If your automation vendor does not provide you with scanners, two companies that are used by South Dakota libraries are:

Barcode scanners are truly a necessity. Hours of staff time will be saved if staff can scan a barcode number rather than having to type the entire 14 digit number into the computer. A barcode scanner also eliminates the errors that happen when someone tries to type a 14 digit number.

Hopefully you have found the information in this article useful as you begin the automation process or as you migrate from one automation system to another. Remember that planning is key to implementing a library automation system that will serve your library and your library users well. Below you will find a list of some automation vendors. This is not a comprehensive list. The State Library does not recommend one system over another system. If you would like to know about what systems other libraries are using please contact the State Library at 1-800-423-6665.

Continue on for resources on automation...

 

automation, SDLN

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