Library Automation Systems Integrate the Internet

If only the curators of the ancient Library of Alexandria could see us now. The look on their faces when we flip a CD-ROM into their hands and tell them the entire contents of their vaunted library would barely fill this shiny disc would be worth a thousand Mona Lisa's.

And the founders of the Library of Congress would surely be flabbergasted to find out that ordinary people in the most obscure places are browsing through their beloved library's contents 24 hours a day, from the comfort of home.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, this scenario would have been simply a futurist's pipe dream, but now it seems as if such projects are expected; they're almost the status quo. How is it that people have come to expect these kinds of achievements... and get cranky when they can't get immediate access to whatever information they're researching? The proliferation of Library Automation Systems (LASs) is at least part of the answer.

Think of someone growing up in the early 1980s who g'es to a library to find a book for a third-grade reading assignment. By the '80s (hopefully), the library has replaced, or at least augmented, their card catalog with an online public access catalog (OPAC), where patrons look up materials very quickly at a computer terminal. The third grader easily finds his book and, from then on, expects future searches to be even easier.

Fast-forward to 1996 and this same individual is a junior in a university. For over a decade, he has been researching, referencing and browsing a multitude of materials using OPACs, CD-ROM databases and the Internet and, quite frankly, is dismayed if an institution lacks these capabilities.

For these reasons, choosing a well-designed LAS has become more important than ever, and this article is designed to help those who have been assigned that difficult task.

Purely Productive Packages

Winnebago has custom-tailored solutions that can be matched to a library's needs and budget. Just one of the firm's many customizable packages, Winnebago Union CAT district-level catalog software manages information on hundreds of thousands of materials at all schools in a district ¬ whether or not those schools are automated. This allows one to make materials easily available to students and staff throughout a district, maximizing dollars and resources.

Winnebago CIRC enables staff to print a variety of reports on materials, students and circulation, which aids a school in strategic planning, budgeting and purchasing decisions. With its textbook control function, the program manages a district's textbooks without the need to purchase a separate system. It can also manage more than 100 types of fixed assets, such as tables, chairs and audiovisual equipment.

The firm's online catalog software, Winnebago CAT, gives teachers and students the ease of use and functionality expected in an OPAC, with free program updates provided by Winnebago's Customer Support Agreement Plan.

Ameritech, too, offers a host of products that allow institutions to pick and choose the best system for their particular needs. Positioned as a complete system composed of varying modules (like most of the "turnkey" LAS packages covered here), Ameritech's solution consists of three main components: InfoShare, a UNIX-based server for storing and managing databases; WinPAC or TermPAC, a GUI- (Windows or Mac) or character-based client to provide access to InfoShare and other databases for workstation users; and DocDirect, an interesting product that functions as an interface to an image server for quick document delivery.

Both the InfoShare server and Ameritech clients are Z39.50 and TCP/IP compliant, allowing for arrangements with other institutions to share databases and costs. InfoShare also supports multiple, simultaneous users through a LAN, dial-in, or a WAN. Patrons can access the InfoShare server using WinPAC or TermPAC client software from their dorms, offices or homes. And DocDirect gives patrons the ability to request immediate print or fax delivery of images while searching citations and abstracts found in InfoShare databases.

Designed for the Power Mac, Alexandria 4.0, from COMPanion Corp., performs circulation, cataloging, patron management, routing, inventory, fines, purchasing and reports, among other functions.

The powerful system features an innovative proprietary transaction-based architecture that boosts search speeds up to ten times over older connection-based servers, claims the firm.

Alexandria 4.0 can also handle multiple simultaneous queries, the Kid's Catalog GUI, and features a Virtual Union Catalog that lets clients access everything on a WAN, giving schools in a district access to other schools' collections. It supports TCP/IP, Apple Remote Access, and is true cross-platform compatible, providing support for Windows-based clients. And Alexandria World Wide Web Gateway, an optional module, lets someone at home or the office access a library's catalog through the Internet.


The ability to easily handle MARC records always wins the hearts of library staff, so it's no wonder that many LASs feature full MARC manageability.

Capable of storing over one million full MARC records, Mandarin, from SIRS, can also fully import, export and edit MARC records. Its Data Spindler utility transfers a library's existing borrower and catalog databases to Mandarin. Original MARC records can also be created with the Mitinet MARC Editor, which is included.

The program's fully integrated circulation module creates transactions directly from the central catalog. Mandarin manages loans, reserves, holds, recalls and more. Staff can define loan, borrower and other circulation parameters, and new patron and temporary item data can be entered "on the fly" from the loan screen.

Receipt printing and self-service check-out are also possible, further enhancing this system's convenience. And, librarians have direct access to the catalog from the circulation screen, speeding administrative work.

Follett Software Co., makers of the popular DOS circulation management software, Circulation Plus, recently introduced two Macintosh-specific products that work independently or together as a system.

MacCirculation Plus is a MARC library management system for circulations, inventory, overdues and statistical reports. It utilizes barcode labels and a barcode scanner, comes with easy-to-follow manuals, and works within an AppleShare or Novell NetWare environment. MacCatalog Plus, which can be used with or without MacCirculation Plus, is a fully integrated OPAC that enables users to search in six fields including Title, Author, Call Number, Subject, Series and Keyword.

Both products feature USMARC compatibility; a shared database for catalog functions and online database; a cataloging module with descriptive MARC tags; multi-level security; and the ability to provide statistical reports and copy-specific information, such as barcode number, acquisition date and circulation type.

One of the top-selling Windows systems, Athena, from Nichols Advanced Technologies, features an extremely user-friendly interface. It greets library patrons with a simple yet colorful catalog searching screen, while an optional message board "broadcasts" important events and happenings.

Athena's search screen has a row of convenient tabs at the bottom, allowing users to perform oft-used functions like viewing a bibliography, showing a catalog card or MARC information of an item, print, etc. The program is very graphic-intensive, representing information as it appears in real life. A card catalog looks like a card catalog, a calendar like a calendar ¬ even pictures of patrons are integrated into the system.

Athena is also quite versatile and powerful, allowing simple or Boolean searches across the entire MARC record without having to memorize arcane search criteria. Everything is indexed including publisher, series, ISBN, LCCN, format, location, date of publication and more. The system's Easy Entry screen is so intuitive that even student volunteers can input MARC records. Students and teachers can perform searches from their classroom or elsewhere using Athena's networking capabilities for both Windows and Macintosh.

Internet Influence

Following the trend to more user-friendly operating environments, Endeavor's library management system, Voyager 3, utilizes a Windows-based GUI. It uses accepted open systems and connectivity standards in a UNIX environment, allowing easy future expansion capability.

Voyager 3 is the first library automation system to offer a relevance search engine like those used on the Web, the firm claims.

Relevance searching, as compared to Boolean searching, uses all of the information the searcher has at hand, in natural language; it d'esn't limit one's search with a controlled vocabulary. Boolean searching provides only records that meet exactly the conditions of the search, whereas relevance searching provides those records plus others that meet most of the defined conditions. Instead of numeric ranking, Voyager shows search results with a histograph that clearly shows how relevant each record is to a search.

SIRSI's UnicornECOLE, another client/server based system using a UNIX file server, is designed and priced exclusively for school libraries. In addition to providing a full MARC catalog, Cataloging, Inventory Control, Circulation and Management Reporting, the system's point-and-click method for exploring the Internet helps users gain access to other databases of information on the Web.

WebCat, one of the included modules, integrates a school library's online catalog and the World Wide Web, allowing in-library OPAC workstations to support Web browsers such as Netscape or Mosaic for catalog searching. SIRSI's Information Gateway provides a list of Internet and Web sites organized into appropriate, meaningful portfolios. ReferenceLIBRARIAN, a product that guides students through curriculum lists and other hot topics, is also included in the package.

While some firms include Internet access software with their packages, Data Research Associates (DRA) offers direct Internet access through their T1-based networks, besides offering library automation products.

DRA Schools, their Internet-intensive LAS, includes modules that give students easy access to the latest information and technologies: DRA Kids, a colorful, easy-to-use, Z39.50-compliant GUI designed specifically for K-12 users; DRA Media, a media center automation module; DRA Web, a Z39.50-compliant Web server; DRA Net, which offers resource-sharing capabilities through a unique collection of networking and Internet services, as well as a wide selection of periodical databases; and DRA News, a popular Internet newsfeed service, with optional screening out of undesired newsgroups.

Keeping the Text Alive

Keeping the faith for those DOS users out there, Auto Librarian 3.0, from MC2 Systems, works with MS-DOS computers to handle library circulation, cataloging functions and barcoding labels for laser and dot-matrix printers with no hidden costs or service fees. To help save paper, it allows reports to be saved to disk or viewed on screen rather than printing them out. An expanded, 65-character Title field, and Publisher and Copyright fields have been added to the Book Database. MARC records can now be importedeasily with an optional interface module.

Data Trek's Manager Series for Schools is an upgrade to its School Series text-based LAS. Free to those clients who have active Software Support Subscriptions, this package includes modules most popular with K-12 school libraries, such as Cataloging, Circulation and EasySearch (student OPAC).

Searching has become much more powerful, with variable field lengths, user-definable field names, and multiple database capability. Optional modules are available, among them Acquisitions, Databridge, OPAC, ImageLink, Report Generator and Audio/Visual Handler.

Trends to Watch...

Most LASs mentioned in this article integrate some form of media tracking or inventory control, but there are also products that are specifically designed with these duties in mind, such as Media Trak 3 from Niche Solutions, and Item Inventory and Tracking from Right On Programs. These programs suit institutions that desire only inventory control or already have a LAS that d'esn't include those capabilities.

One trend that is saving staff a lot of data entry time is the availability of programs that help convert, create and edit OPACs and MARC records. MITINET Software's MITINET/marc, Follett's CardMaster Plus and Ameritech's Dynix Cataloging for Windows are representative of this breed of helpful applications. For even more MARC convenience, SIRSI's SmartPORT for Windows lets staff search multiple Z39.50 bibliographic resources to capture MARC records, edit them and import them directly into their SIRSI Unicorn catalog.

Smooth, Speedy Searching

As evidenced in this article, the proliferation of Internet and Web access offered to libraries opens up many new possibilities in research and referencing.

EBSCOhost, one of a plethora of similar services, is a Z39.50-compliant, multi-database client/server search and retrieval system that is accessible via the Internet or through direct connection. Libraries using the system have access to multiple databases, such as ERIC, Current Citations, MAS FullTEXT Elite, and Academic Abstracts FullTEXT. Designed to work with all major integrated library systems and OPACs, EBSCOhost features a proprietary search engine and search software, is compatible with Windows, Macintosh, UNIX and other platforms, and features simultaneous searching of different databases; searchable subject and journal authority files; Boolean, phrase and proximity, and wildcard searching; several downloading and printing options; a document ordering option; and hypertext links to related documents.

One product that gives the entire online community access to a library's electronic database (with proper authorization, of course) is WebPAC, from Ameritech. The program acts as a gateway between the HTTP protocol of the Web and Z39.50 library protocol and allows patrons to use any standard Web browser to search Z39.50-compliant databases on the Internet, including library OPACs (if connected to the Internet).

Because these products are so comprehensive, and space is limited in this article, only some of their features are mentioned. Remember that some firms offer optional modules with features that other systems include as standard. We urge readers to contact vendors for more detailed information.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.