Library Automation Package Helps "Smart School" Libraries Serve as Nerve Centers

In 1990, Hampton City Schools in Virginia began to develop a model, technology-intensive high school. Bethel High, a "Smart School," provided the district with first-hand experience on emerging technologies useful for restructuring efforts. "Since we wanted technology to be used in the school as it is used in business and industry," explains Charles Stallard, the director of Library, Media and Technology for Hampton City Schools, "our plan focused on creating an information infrastructure. For its nerve center," he continues, "we chose the library." Such placement redefined the roles of library staff, library operation and even its basic definition. Infrastructure Bethel High's internal network is based on the Macintosh. To connect to the rest of the world, an Electronic Classroom was created, supported by a steerable satellite dish, speaker phone, fax and network modems. It is also networked to the library. The goal was to give school staff, teachers and students quick and easy access to remote data, library resources and e-mail right from their desks. Heart of the Nerve Center It was natural to make the library the nerve center of the Smart School. After all, librarians are professional information managers. Hampton's secondary libraries are staffed with two professional librarians and two technical assistants. As the only staff not required to give classes of students their full attention during the school day, they could be utilized to provide on-the-spot support for teachers and students on network and new library resource usage. For library automation, the district chose Alexandria, a package from COMPanion Corp., in Salt Lake City, Utah. This multi-user program allows the library's online catalog to be delivered to anyone on the network. "It was the best Mac library automation software available," asserts Sherry Holt, a library teacher specialist for Hampton City Schools. "And we knew it would be able to handle our ultimate goal -- districtwide connectivity." Alexandria has been implemented under various schemes in Hampton City School libraries -- from one small library where there is a single Mac Classic to access the online catalog all the way to a fully integrated approach in which Macs in every classroom have instant access to the program. The latter is now utilized in several elementary schools and high schools in the district. "Students can do a search on the planet Saturn," explains Holt, "to pull up a list of the library holdings' books. Then, without leaving the program, they can access a CD-ROM encyclopedia and use that information too. It's wonderful." Saves Critical Staff Time Bethel's library also has a fully equipped teacher's resource lab. In fact, librarians have become the district's key trainers in the fundamentals of working in a Smart School. Library staff have also become responsible for database design and developing other electronic resources for the network. With the new responsibilities, library staff's time is even more critical. Alexandria's reports and other capabilities help by automating some inventory duties and other time-consuming tasks. "It'll do your orders so you don't have type out purchase orders anymore," says Holt. "It will manage your periodicals, it has links to a budget program, and a lot more." Such capabilities normally require three or four external programs. In Alexandria, they are all integrated. Interlibrary Circulation From the initial pilot at Bethel High School, the LAN has been extended into a wide-area network by connecting all 34 schools in the district together via modem. Thus, interlibrary circulation of both print and digital resources has been greatly enhanced; students and teachers use Alexandria to access the catalogs of other schools. While most uses of library resources will remain local, Stallard feels the district can reduce duplication and build a stronger and more broadly based collection. "For the first time," he says, "we are thinking in terms of collections development across the entire district rather in each individual school." For example, one high school features a program on robotics and its library's collection could focus on that. Alexandria's reporting abilities help by providing a more exact profile of collection use across the district, thus enhancing acquisition decisions. Final Words "We're real pleased with our support," says Holt. As library teacher specialist, it's her job to teach the librarians how to use Alexandria. "When I call [the company], they're always very helpful." And what about the software itself? "The more I use it, the more I like it," she adds. "They are constantly updating it too, integrating more features. We're very satisfied."

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.