Automation Optimizes Library Resources at Slinger School District

For many years, automating the School District of Slinger's four-site library media program was just a dream. The district, nestled in a rolling, lake-speckled area of Wisconsin 30 minutes north of Milwaukee, has traditionally been very conservative in its fiscal management. Nevertheless, they regularly previewed vendors' products with an eye toward optimizing staff efficiency on a tight budget. Even though no system exactly fit their specifications, library staff remained optimistic. They participated in a multi-type LCSA grant that funded retrospective conversion of library records to machine-readable format using WISCAT (the Wisconsin Catalog), matching over 95% of their records. Records were continually updated for the next two years so that Slinger's libraries would be all ready to go when a system was finally approved. Finding the Right Solution Eventually, Slinger found the Scholar system from Ameritech Library Services, in Provo, Utah. They were impressed with the system's ease of use, varied search capabilities and flexible programming options, notes Lynn Ondercin, Media Services Coordinator for the School District of Slinger. "We were especially excited to be able to perform all library functions--including searching the full union catalog--from anywhere on the network," says Ondercin. "This connectivity was one of the deciding factors in choosing Scholar as it offered us the best strategy for finding and sharing all the district's resources--the most cost-effective and practical answer to our automation needs and budget." The district's administration and school board realized that the union catalog feature would allow schools to share resources; thus, fewer duplicates would need to be purchased. They could then afford to provide improved scope and depth of the combined collections, even with limited funds. Since optimizing the staff budget was another reason to automate, it was successfully pointed out that staff in automated libraries spend more time with patrons and less time with routine clerical chores. Support from administration, school board and the entire library staff was instrumental in acquiring Ameritech Library Services' sophisticated automated library circulation, cataloging and public-access catalog modules on a shared database with the wide area network now in place. Implementation Steps With the decision to purchase the Scholar system, The Brodart Co. extracted the libraries' nearly 34,000 records from WISCAT for a nominal fee. They produced a magnetic tape of high-quality bibliographic records that Ameritech Library Services then downloaded and tailored specifically for the district.

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Ameritech also helped create a two-year plan to spread out the cost of launching the system. One added benefit was that the high school went online first with a database that already contained all the district's records. Since that school was also the "central processing center," media services' personnel were able to master the system, correct imperfect records, and train staff before the other three sites went online. Slinger's two elementary schools and one middle school received their barcodes in fall of 1993. The telecommunications links were installed amidst a terrible blizzard in February of 1994. Two Ameritech installers braved four-foot snowdrifts and worked late into the night until all four libraries were up and running perfectly on a networked system using state-of-the-art WAN technology. Currently, Slinger's libraries have a three-site TCP/IP WAN using Telebit NetBlazer equipment. One site is connected via a 56K leased line; the other is connected via 14.4 dial-up modems. Positive Results and Bonuses As hoped, resource sharing has increased and library staff's time has been optimized. Every aspect of circulation and cataloging is easier and more accurate. "We are proud to be preparing our students for the 21st century by teaching them online search strategies," comments Ondercin. She also notes that Ameritech Library Services' e-mail feature provides an unexpected bonus--better library staff communication between buildings. Finally, since the original installation, both elementary schools have added a Kid's Catalog--a fun, graphical, online catalog for younger Mac users. "If our experience has anything to teach others," says Ondercin, "it is that anyone can find a way to automate and network. With patience and planning, librarians can find ways to succeed.We must keep moving toward our long-range technology and automation goals one step at a time, look for grant money, and empower ourselves to begin with just a dream. That is how it started here."

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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