Library Automation Basics for Reluctant Librarians

LYNN LYNDES, Librarian/Media Specialist Canseraga Central School Canseraga, N.Y. " Why should I automate my library? What advantages would it give to my small school or public library? D'esn't it cost too much? I don't understand computers, let alone automation, retrospective conversion, etc.! Above all, I'm not so sure I like the idea of computers running everything..." Anxieties like these are common for the librarian who is facing the pressure of automation yet knows little about it. Actually, the computer can make your life as a librarian so much easier that you will some day wonder how you ever operated your library without one! Can you imagine checking in a classroom of children's books in less than two minutes? Can you believe your small library could actually eliminate bookcards altogether? Can you believe getting circulation statistics in minutes vs. hours? Can you imagine being able to quickly tell a patron how many books he/she has out, their titles and when each is due? Can you believe that simply waving a "wand" across books lets you check out multiple student/patrons in mere seconds? Can you imagine a library where you no longer have to file manually thousands of catalog cards each year? Or a library where someone types in a few subject headings and, in seconds, has a complete bibliographic listing of books in your collection on those subjects? Best of all, can you imagine finally having the time to do all those things that really need to be done in your library? It's not only possible, but it's easy and even inexpensive! Where Do You Begin? There's no doubt that it is a real struggle to understand all the options and available technology for library automation. In fact, it seems almost impossible for anyone to keep up. But there are some basic steps in the process of automating your library that will help you get an understanding of what to expect. In a nutshell, it takes four steps. Buy an automation program (with technical support and barcode reader); Convert your present shelf list into computer language; Add barcodes to your books; and Assign barcodes to your patrons. What Automation Software Should I Use? First, go with what you know. If you have a Macintosh or are familiar with that platform, stick with it; same for IBM and compatibles. There are powerful programs available in either format that will work for your situation. If you don't know either one, look around. Go to computer stores, check out other libraries and test the ease of operation of both platforms. Choose the one you are most comfortable with, because in spite of the patron use of computers, it will ultimately be your responsibility to keep the system up and running. Go with what works easiest for you. Next check out available software. There are a host of automation programs, and deciding which is the right one will be your most difficult decision. Ask what other librarians are using. Inquire as to what they like, and dislike, about their system. Many programs offer things you may not need. Check out each program as you become aware of it. You never know what program will work best for your situation until you try it. Most companies will give you a "demo disk"; take advantage of these offers. Sales staff, although undeniably biased, have good information and can give live demonstrations of their firm's products. Be sure to also ask about technical support. There will be hundreds of questions as you begin working with the software, and you'll want to be able to access technicians who can help. Additionally, you'll want either your vendor to supply you with a barcode wand or recommend one to buy. Costs for library-automation software programs range from about $900 to $3,000, with barcode wands at around $500. Retrospective Conversion It's a big name for a big job. Converting your shelf list into electronic data is indeed quite a challenge, but there are several ways to do it. Before you begin, though, your shelf must be up to date. This is the time to weed the collection! No need to convert books you don't want anyway, especially since it costs time and money. Once your shelf list is updated, you have a couple of options to convert this written information into MAchine Readable Codes (MARC) format. You can pay a company to convert your shelf list into MARC format. This ranges for $.50 to $1 per record—so if your collection has 10,000 books, that's $5,000 at a minimum! Or you can convert the shelf list yourself. To do it yourself, you can buy a subscription for MARC CD-ROMs. A one-year subscription runs $500 to $800. You get two types of discs with a subscription: one for all your older books (say pre-1990) and, periodically throughout the year, two or three updated discs for current books. The task now becomes one of going through the shelf list (using a volunteer, parent, employee or aide helps), typing in the ISBN number, or each title or author, and the disc d'es the rest. It brings up the MARC record, you decide if it matches your book, and if so, the record is saved in a list to be added to your automation program. Whether you pay someone else or do it yourself, always expect some problems with retrospective conversion; it comes with the territory. Retrospective conversion will be a long, drawn out affair, taking months to convert your collection if you do it yourself. But it only needs to be done once. Then the records are permanently in the computer and will never need to be converted again. Brodart Library Co., as well as other firms, offer retrospective discs and will work with you on your questions as they arise. Remember, too, that as you order new books from your jobber, MARC records and barcodes can come already included! Is That All? You will also need to physically put a barcode on each book. This can be fun. Give a barcode party! There are enough librarians around, or adults or even students (I've used fifth graders) who will spend a couple of hours and help you attach barcodes to books. Even without help, adding barcodes is not a big deal, just time-consuming. You can readily buy barcode labels with numbers printed on them for around $50 to $75 per thousand. Last, of course, is getting your patrons into the computer. If you're in a school, there's no problem. The office has a list of your students on a computer. Simply get a disk with that data and follow your vendor's directions on uploading them into your automation program. If there is no list of patrons on computer anywhere (be sure to check mailing lists, etc.), then each patron's name must be entered manually into your database. That done, barcodes are then assigned to each patron. It's easy to put the barcodes onto a Rolodex by names or classes, or photocopy them by class lists. With book and patron records in your computer, you're ready to go! Just wait for that first patron or that first class to arrive and watch how easy life is when you check books in and out with your computerized system! When you add up all the costs— automation software (say $1,200), barcode wand ($500), retrospective conversion ($700 plus your time), and barcodes for 10,000 books ($500)—you could automate for as little as $2,900 (not including the hardware). Add hardware ($1,000 to $3,000) and your library could be automated for under $4,000 for a bare-bones, but useful and fully functioning program. In my school, the administration already owned MacSchool, with all of its modules, including the library module. It was an easy step to subscribe to Precision One (Brodart), and begin converting my shelf list. Patrons were already loaded in the computer, from the school's guidance, attendance and health records. I requested a used Macintosh Classic (with a 9" monochrome screen), and was in business! Even with my retrospective conversion only half completed, I use the Mac to make bibliographies, check books in and out, generate statistics and print overdue notices. Total startup cost was under $1,000! Go for It! Automating a library is a long and tedious job, there's no denying it. But the results are worth every effort! Just ask any librarian who's gone through it. Automation will allow patrons to access your collection with a few simple commands on the computer; it will keep track of your circulation statistics; it will give you bibliographies on demand; it will even generate overdue notices! Best of all, the automated library will give you more time for the things you want to do. Lynn Lyndes is a library/media specialist at a small, central school in upstate New York. He enjoys automating his library and choosing new software for his students. Library Automation Software Notis Horizon (D,M) Ameritech Library Services 1007 Church St. Evanston, IL 60201-3665 (708) 866-0150 LePac (D) Brodart 500 Arch St. Williamsport, PA 17705 (800) 233-8467 Libraryworks (D,M) CASPR, Inc. 635 Vaqueros Ave. Sunnyvale, CA 94086 (800) 852-2777 MacSchool Library Pro (M) Chancery Software Ltd. 4170 Still Creek Rd., Ste. 45 Burnaby, B.C. V5C 6C6 (800) 999-9931 Alexandria (M) COMPanion Corp. 1831 Fort Union Blvd. Salt Lake City, UT 84121 (800) 347-6439 Manager's Series (D,M) Data Trek 5838 Edison Place Carlsbad, CA 92008 (800) 876-5484 Dynix Library System (U) Dynix, Inc. 400 Dynix Dr. Provo, UT 84604-5650 (800) 288-8020 Voyager (Sun, DEC) Endeavor Info. Systems 9700 W. Higgins Rd., Ste. 100 Rosemont, FL 60018-4734 (800) 762-6300 Unison (D) Follett Software Co., The 809 N. Front St. McHenry, IL 60050 (800) 323-3397 GALAXY (U) Gaylord Information Systems Box 4901 Syracuse, NY 13221-4901 (800) 962-9580 Columbia Library System (U) McGraw-Hill School Systems 20 Ryan Ranch Rd. Monterye, CA 93940 (800) 663-0544 SIRS Mandarin, Inc. P.O. Box 272348 Boca Raton, FL, 33427-2348 (800)-232-7477 TAPESTRY (U) P.S.S. TAPESTRY, Inc. 8623 Old Perry Hwy. Pittsburgh, PA 15237 (412) 366-0100 Mac the Librarian (M) Richmond Software 500 Aston Hall Way Alpharetta, GA 30202 (800) 222-6063 Unicorn + STILAS (U) SIRS Mandarin, Inc., 689 Discovery Dr. Huntsville, AL 35806 (205) 922-9820 Circ/Cat (D,M) Winnebago Software Co. P.O. Box 430 Caledonia, MN 55921 (800) 533-5430 This list is not necessarily comprehensive.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.