Media SW Supports Center's Loan & Rental Opertaions

Iowa State University's Media Resource Center is a large centralized support service that supplies A/V equipment and titles to many clients, both on campus and off. The center relied on a paper-based solution for equipment check-outs; reservations for the numerous media products -- films, slides, videodiscs and more -- were handled by an expensive and limited mainframe system. What was needed was software that would handle circulation, recordkeeping plus financial management tasks. More Accurate According to Don Rieck, director of the Media Resources Center, the university began to investigate such a solution roughly two and a half years ago. "We were growing rapidly," he recalls. "Requests came faster than the staff could handle them. We wanted to be more accurate and standardized." Different programs were brought in and tested, and Rieck visited other institutions to watch systems in action. In April of 1993, he decided to purchase Medianet media and equipment scheduling software from Dymaxion Research Ltd. in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The staff of eight to nine individuals spent several months learning the new system, and in August it was up and running. The decision to upgrade included hardware as well. A Digital Equipment Corp. MiniVAX Model 3100 was purchased to run Medianet; along with six workstations, a mixture of DOS and Mac computers networked together via Ethernet act as dumb terminals. Vast Array of Resources The center's library includes a collection of 6,000 film and video titles, a couple hundred videodiscs and CD-ROMs, plus another several hundred slide series. In addition 10,000+ slide projectors, overhead projectors, 35mm cameras, video recorders and players, and more were available. "We have 20 to 25 categories of products," Rieck explains, "and a $3 million inventory." To make the most of this vast array of resources, the center also operates a rental operation that makes the equipment available to other institutions. Medianet's ability to handle both types of check-outs, plus maintain financial records, made it the best choice. Rieck maintains that the system's main advantage is that it allows his staff to readily answer questions for clients. Historical data is at their fingertips, with powerful search capabilities that include keywords to facilitate use. Now staff can perform electronic searches rather than try to answer questions from memory; plus a change of personnel d'esn't affect the overall knowledge base. "I can now pull off monthly figures concerning circulation, data that was difficult to collect manually," Rieck asserts. Another plus is the "pick lists" feature, which shows items that are going to be picked up that day. Some equipment is pre-booked, but a good deal is loaned out on a walk-in basis. Says Rieck, "Medianet is very fast and allows us to handle walk-ins better than other packages." Paying for Itself Although it is a little early for exact figures, Rieck says he developed a formula that indicates the system would pay for itself within three years. However, the way things are going, it looks like it may even be less than two years. "It used to cost us $30,000 per year to support the mainframe software alone. We bought into this system for $45,000, including the software and hardware. Although there are still some things we need the mainframe for, we will save approximately $20,000 a year in mainframe costs, plus we can do so much more now." An added bonus is the program's built-in cataloging module, which will develop catalogs, fliers and other marketing materials. Comments Rieck, "We offer a lot of services on a no-charge basis because we have some off-campus revenue -- we're like a small business in ways. Getting information out to paying customers will help us support our non-paying clients."

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.

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