ERIC Identifier: ED327217
Publication Date: 1990-11-00
Author: Schamber, Linda
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources Syracuse
Automation for the School Library Media Center. ERIC
The thousands of school library media centers (LMCs) across the country
that have automated their collection management operations have found that
performance of routine tasks by staff and access to information by students
and faculty have become a great deal faster and easier. Automation often
begins with microcomputer-based circulation and online catalog systems,
but the available capabilities and the potential for expansion extend far
beyond these basic functions. This digest will focus on initial considerations
for implementing an automated facility.
Automated systems are available for four basic management functions:
The CIRCULATION SYSTEM tracks the status of all LMC materials that circulate.
It allows fast entry of borrowed items and easy identification of overdue
accounts through records of all patrons. It prints overdue notices and
establishes waiting or hold lists.
The ONLINE CATALOG provides instant access to catalog records as well
as inventory data and brief acquisitions records via powerful interactive
searching and help capabilities. It allows browsing as well as keyword
searches on author, title, subject and other fields such as notes and copyright.
Boolean logic can be used for complex searches. Searching is assisted by
help menus, prompts, mouse pointing devices, and visual or audio tutors.
The online catalog may contain other types of databases, such as journal
indexes, and it may allow remote access from classroom, office, or home.
The online catalog also contains a cataloging component to assist in developing
MARC (machine-readable cataloging) records.
The ACQUISITIONS SYSTEM manages ordering functions, from entering order
data through claiming items ordered but not received. It maintains financial
records and publisher lists. It allows instant entry of records for newly
acquired books with catalog records on disk or bar codes (sometimes these
catalog records are part of the catalog module). Brief acquisitions records
may be downloaded into the circulation system.
SERIALS CHECK-IN maintains records of journals, magazines, and other
items received periodically. It tracks publication dates, maintains financial
records, and generates claim notices for late items.
The software for these systems is designed for ease of data entry and
flexibility in searching. Once the databases are set up, LMC staff can
quickly enter updates and generate inventories and reports on collection
use, overdues, and budgets.
RESEARCH AND PLANNING
Introducing automation involves, first, researching both LMC needs and
the technologies available and, second, developing plans to guide decisions
about purchases, training, and maintenance.
Before library media specialists focus on system features and specifications,
they should look at how automation will help different kinds of LMC users
to be more productive in their work, and at how it will help the LMC meet
its overall instructional goals. This requires an assessment of current
needs and uses of the LMC by students, teachers, and LMC staff. The results
will not only make it easier to choose appropriate systems; hard data collected
at this time on collection use, materials budgets, etc. will also provide
baselines for comparison in future reports and requests.
Technological options must also be researched. In the automated LMC,
hard-drive IBM PCs or IBM compatibles are the standard equipment. These
may be linked to CD-ROM laser readers for access to inexpensive mass storage,
to modems to facilitate internal or external networking, and to input/output
devices such as bar code scanners and printers. The library media specialist
should learn about CD-ROM databases, online bibliographic utilities, interface
software, and other resources that might be considered for future expansion
and networking. Information about hardware and software may be obtained
from professional journals and conferences, colleagues at other schools
who have implemented automation programs, and system and database vendors
who will provide demonstrations and specifications.
The second major task, after research, is to develop detailed plans
and budgets. These should include staff and training considerations as
well as outright costs of hardware, software, and databases. Note that
initial outlays for software, hardware, and data entry will be high, but
that ongoing costs for updates, maintenance, and even expansion may be
lower than they were before automation. At the same time, bear in mind
that many new technologies have been so popular with users that schools
have had to budget for expansion earlier than expected. The most practical
strategy is to map out a phased automation schedule with the understanding
that it may have to be revised. Evaluations should be scheduled at major
points so that results of implementing automation can be documented and
Specific software and hardware costs vary widely, from less than $4,000
for a single-user circulation/catalog workstation to more than $40,000
for a multi-user network supporting an integrated multi-function system
(Murphy, 1989). The library media specialist may have to look for support
beyond the school or school system. Some state education departments, for
example, have been very supportive of library automation programs. Other
schools may be able to describe funding strategies that have been successful.
Library media specialists might also consider institutional cooperation;
every effort that can be shared with other schools or libraries, such as
conversion to a joint online catalog or networking of database resources,
lowers the cost for the individual facility.
COMPATIBILITY AND CONVERSION ISSUES
Two of the biggest decisions in automating the LMC concern compatibility
among systems performing basic management functions, and conversion of
records to digital form for these systems. The decisions involve a number
of complex tradeoffs.
Circulation, catalog, acquisitions, and serial check-in functions may
be performed by separate systems linked together or by an integrated system
that uses one set of MARC records to perform various functions. Potter
(1988) notes that with separate systems, the LMC can choose the best software
for its purposes. Each system, however, may run on its own machine, which
could lead to technical compatibility problems. Staff may find it difficult
to transfer data from one system to another and to learn different commands
for each function. On the other hand, the entire LMC is less likely to
suffer if one system fails, and it need not rely on just one vendor for
support. In an integrated system, data and commands are likely to be consistent
from one function to another.
Unfortunately, few integrated systems exist that incorporate all library
automation functions. An alternative is to choose two or more limited integrated
systems, usually catalog/circulation and acquisitions/serial check-in.
(The combined catalog/circulation system is most widely used in LMCs, and
many programs are currently available.) Some vendors of one type of integrated
system offer interfaces to transfer data to the other type of system. The
most success has been reported with this combined strategy and with fully
A major concern is entering data in the new systems, particularly catalog
and circulation data. Retrospective conversion of existing catalog records
can be expensive and time-consuming, whether performed on-site or externally
by a vendor. Murphy (1990) describes a number of software programs and
vendor services that can make the process more manageable. Vendors convert
records by matching the school's shelf list against their Library of Congress
authority list and other databases at a cost, roughly, of ten cents to
a dollar per record. The records themselves are stored on floppy disks,
hard disks, or CD-ROMs. CD-ROMs are the most expensive but have the greatest
storage capacity; it is possible for 20 or more schools to share the cost
of putting their catalogs on a single CD-ROM.
Regardless of who does the conversion, it is recommended that the records
adhere to the nationally standardized MARC format used in all major bibliographic
databases. In addition to facilitating conversion, MARC allows records
to be transferred and shared among different cataloging systems, libraries,
and online utilities, thus opening the door to a variety of options for
IMPACTS OF AUTOMATION
Automation has immediate and long-term effects at every level:
STAFF: The LMC must plan for a reapportionment of time to train its
staff, and for its staff, in turn, to train and assist faculty and students.
Staff may spend less time on routine tasks, but they must still deal with
a lack of standardization at all levels of access and use in current systems,
as well as maintenance problems and downtime. Finally, they must be prepared
to learn to work on upgrades of software and hardware as they become available.
USERS: The most prominent characteristic of online catalogs and CD-ROM
databases is their ease of use. Students are motivated to interact with
the machine and to browse through and play with information in a way that
naturally tends to improve their information skills. Nevertheless, library
media specialists should revise their curricula to encourage the development
of electronic searching skills and the use of electronic resource materials.
COLLECTIONS: The most clear-cut impact of online catalogs and CD-ROM
databases has been the result of their popularity: increased use of catalogs
has led to increased use of LMC materials. There has also been a high demand
for computer workstations. Library media specialists have found both that
the nature of reference work has changed and that access is a more critical
issue than ever.
EXPANSION: The success of early automation efforts has propelled many
libraries and LMCs rather quickly into the addition of further resources
and services. Periodical indexes have been added to online catalogs, and
multimedia reference materials such as encyclopedias have been made available
at CD-ROM workstations. Workstations allow the use of reference materials
and applications software, like word processors, at the same time. Telecommunications
allows access to bibliographic utilities and the networking of systems
for shared cataloging and interlibrary loan.
Potter (1989), Eisenberg (1990), and many others discuss technological
trends and their implications. For the library media specialist, these
trends mean that the same kinds of skills and knowledge required for the
early stages of automation have become ongoing components of library and
information management. Automation, as Hoffmann (1988) aptly describes
it, is "a process, not a project."
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