John M. Cohn
Ann L. Kelsey
Learning Resources Center
County College of Morris
Randolph, NJ 07869-2086, USA
Planning for library automation has been defined as planning for "integrated systems" that computerize an array of traditional library functions using a common database (Cohn, Kelsey & Fiels, 1992, v.) While this is still generally true, rapid technological change is forcing a reexamination of what it means to "automate the library." As physical, spatial and temporal barriers to acquiring information continue to crumble, libraries must plan for a broader and more comprehensive approach to providing automated services.
Four years ago, the authors anticipated:
• full-text storage of documents, complete with full-text keyword searching and on-demand printing;
• access by users to library databases from home or office, with direct downloading of information and text on demand;
• the ability to access remote databases across the country and the world, and to download information and text on demand;
• storage of pictorial and graphic material; and,
• availability of "intelligent systems" providing
transparent, one-step searching and access to various library in-house
and remote databases. (Cohn, Kelsey & Fiels, 1992, p. 111.)
• providing access for external users on the Internet to the library's OPAC;
• monitoring the usage of remote databases that have been accessed through the gateway; and,
• accessing the Internet using a variety of graphical interfaces.
Given such increased complexities and heightened levels of expectation, libraries must learn all the more how to plan for the introduction of automation in an organized and systematic fashion. There is little mystery involved here: It is entirely a matter of building upon what you already know about your library, using tools that are readily at hand and, most importantly of all, involving the people -- staff and users -- who must live with the consequences of any automation decisions.
2. THE FIRST STEP: DEVELOPING A LIBRARY "PROFILE"
One of the most important planning tools involves collecting basic statistical information on the library and its operations. You will find that the same basic data will be needed again and again -- whether for vendors from whom you are requesting cost estimates, or for other libraries with whom you may be seeking to cooperate in implementing automation.
The following are examples of commonly needed data:
• Number of borrowers, current and projected;
• Number of materials circulated, current and projected;
• Number of new materials acquired, current and projected;
• Interlibrary loans, lent to and borrowed from other libraries;
• Description of any cooperative arrangements involving the library; and,
• Library address and hours of operation.
• Description of collection without machine-readable records, by category (e.g. monographs, audiovisuals);
• Description of currently-automated library functions (if any);
• Estimates of the location and number of workstations (to show where you intend to have equipment in any future system); and,
• Specifications for any existing equipment to be re-used with any future system (if any).
3. DEVELOPING A STRATEGIC PLAN
A library planning to automate should undertake a process by which representative staff and users can identify service needs and objectives. The purpose of such an effort is to allow participants to articulate their interests and concerns, share perspectives and learn about possibilities in a collaborative setting. Group interaction is an important contributing factor in the success of the goal, which is to develop and sustain library automation in the years ahead.
Here are the basic steps involved in this process:
• Ask participants to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the library's environment (known as "SWOT" factors in strategic planning) that are characteristic of or that confront the library.
• Group these factors into critical issue areas that are likely to have an impact on the libraries' future in developing and sustaining automation.
• Ask participants to identify ideas and perceptions in relation to the question: "How do you see the library providing user-friendly, cost-effective automated services in five years?"
• Through a method of your own devising, ask participants to prioritize all of the ideas that come out of the above two "brainstorming" exercises.
• Ask participants to shape these priorities into the draft of a strategic "vision" for automation development consisting of a statement of purpose, goals and objectives for the library.
Your strategic vision must now provide the framework or context for the next step in the automation process, which is to determine which library functions should be automated and in what order of priority. For example, processes that are repetitive, occupy large amounts of staff time, require retrieving information from large, unwieldy files, or are high-profile functions of the library (such as the public catalog) are prime candidates for automation.
Determining the functions that you wish to automate and their priorities relative to each other is important for all sorts of reasons. If needs and priorities are clear, functions can be automated in phases, allowing for more effective use of frequently scarce funding. Moreover, it is a way to develop credibility with funding agencies and be able to take advantage of "sudden" funding opportunities. Finally, evaluations of systems and options will be easier and more productive if you are able to match your highest functional priorities against the corresponding modules available in the marketplace.
5. A WORD ABOUT COSTS...
Speaking of funding, planners need to be aware that there are certain cost elements involved in the installation and operation of any automated system. These may be summarized as follows:
• PURCHASE OF THE SYSTEM includes the cost of acquiring the initial system hardware and software, as well as the cost of preparing a site for the computer system.
• TELECOMMUNICATIONS costs are those fees paid to telecommunications companies or agencies for connecting remote terminals or workstations to a central computer system.
• CONVERSION costs are those associated with the creation of machine-readable bibliographic and, for circulation systems, patron, records.
• ON-GOING OPERATING costs include...
- utility costs
- bar code labels
- miscellaneous supply costs
- telecommunications costs
- salaries and benefits (if extra staff are hired)
At some point, you will need to re-formulate your functional priorities into "functional specifications," which may be defined as what you want an automated system to do for you, including things that your current manual system cannot do. "Technical specifications" must also be established. These include standards that must be adhered to, system performance, operation, and maintenance, as well as infrastructure requirements, such as stable sources of electricity and telecommunications, and sufficient bandwidth.
Developing clear and accurate functional and technical specifications that are specific to your library is one of the most important, if not THE most important, activity that you will engage in as you plan for your automated system. These specifications will carry you through the entire procurement process, and will ensure that the system which most closely matches them will be the most useful and the most responsive to your needs.
7. DEVELOPING A FORMAL SPECIFICATIONS DOCUMENT
It is very difficult to compare systems sensibly and pragmatically solely by randomly looking at systems, talking to sales representatives, reading literature or comparing broad cost quotations. For this reason, libraries use a formal document -- often known as a "Request for Proposal," or RFP -- that organizes and standardizes the information provided to and requested from the various system vendors.
Utilizing an RFP to solicit written responses from vendors makes it possible for you to systematically compare functionality, cost, maintenance, support, and all the other issues that are involved in system procurements. The process can save you money and will result in a wiser decision.
An RFP document should include these essential elements, among others:
• a description of how the proposals should be arranged and submitted;
• instructions on receiving vendor business and financial information;
• criteria the library will use to evaluate vendor proposals;
• questions regarding vendor training and documentation;
• your functional and technical specifications;
Also, vendors should be asked to describe:
• how they will create bibliographic, item and borrower databases;
• their system maintenance programs and services;
• their site preparation requirements;
• their delivery and installation methodologies;
• their system performance guarantees; and
• their pricing and cost strategies, in detail.
Upon the receipt of vendor proposals, it will be time to begin the process of system evaluation and selection. This process involves a number of key steps:
• Try to weed out proposals that are "fatally flawed," e.g., where the vendor fails to reply to any of the functional specifications or the system is missing a module for a high-priority function.
• Begin in-depth reading of the "surviving" proposals, carefully noting both deviations from the requirements as defined by the RFP and any aspect that is handled unusually well. Make a list of any parts of the response that are not clear and require further clarification.
• Schedule system demonstrations. They are an important component of the evaluation process. Allow the vendors to show off the vendor's system in the most attractive light; however, be prepared with a list of what you want to see along with questions you would like answered. Use the same list with each vendor. This permits more effective cross-comparisons.
• Consider using computerized spreadsheet software in order to compare and evaluate vendor cost proposals. Costs may not be what they seem at first glance.
• Contact some of each vendor's current clients-- sites of the same library type, and of similar size, where the hardware and software modules that have been proposed to you are currently in use.
• Assign point values to the criteria listed in the RFP and assign scores to the different proposals. The system with the highest score becomes the number one finalist, the system with the second highest score number two and so on. To maintain a negotiating edge, it is better to cut to two vendors rather than one. If that is impossible, maintain the illusion anyway. Remember: The selection process is not over until the contract is signed. Until that point, never let any vendors know that they have been eliminated, including those with fatal flaws.
After the system selection process is complete, there are several important steps which must occur. You and your vendor will have to negotiate and sign a contract. You will want to test the system and make sure it suits your needs. You will want to make provisions for system maintenance. Finally, you will want to train both your staff and your users as much as possible to prepare them for when the system is up and running.
With regard to training, the following must be considered: In thinking of automation planning, there is often a tendency to focus on the hardware and software aspects of planning, and to ignore the human aspects of automation-- training and public relations. Without these, however, even the most carefully designed system may not be accepted by library staff or library users.
To assure the success of your hard planning work, a training and public relations plan should be part of any automation project. Fortunately, training can begin long before the system is installed. By involving staff at all levels in the analysis of operations, the identification of needs, the setting of priorities, the development of specifications, and the evaluation of systems, staff will gain much of the knowledge they need as the planning progresses.
User acceptance and enthusiasm for your new automated system is certainly an important ingredient in a successful planning effort. If you are implementing a public access catalog, it is probably the most important measure of success.
Public relations can allow you to accomplish three things:
• motivate them to use the system; and,
• train them in using the new system and services effectively.
In the rush to acquire hardware and software, librarians often forget that their most valuable product is the library's database. The creation of a high-quality machine-readable database provides the cornerstone upon which all present and future automation efforts rest. Vendors will come and go, hardware will become obsolete, software will be replaced, but a well-constructed, well-maintained database, with its accompanying local holdings, will be the library's transportable and viable link from system to system. Moreover, as library users begin to access not only their local system but systems in other libraries as well, the quality of respective databases will influence both the outcome of search strategies and the availability of materials.
Database readiness has several important facets:
• Collections must be prepared for conversion through effective and ongoing weeding and inventory programs;
• Once converted, collections must be properly maintained as titles are added, withdrawn, transferred and recataloged; and,
• Standards -- for bibliographic, item and patron records as well -- must be adhered to. In particular, adherence to well-established and accepted standards of description for bibliographic information in a machine-readable database is critical because:
- it is essential for libraries wishing to participate
in resource sharing arrangements with other libraries, who will require
such adherence as a condition of participation.
Computer technology and software applications are changing and evolving at an incredibly rapid pace. At current rates of development, you can expect that by the time you install your carefully planned system, capabilities will be available that were only in planning while you were evaluating vendor proposals. In general, a life cycle of five years is considered to be acceptable for a computer system before some significant upgrade (installation of additional hardware and/or software providing for increased capability or capacity) or replacement will be necessary.
Because computer and information technology represent a fundamental change in the way libraries do business, libraries must make an ongoing commitment to keeping pace with change. Therefore, like automated systems, plans must also change with time.
Plans must be regularly revisited and updated as the environment and needs change. In general, a library should conduct a major reexamination of its plan every five years, and should review its plan on an annual basis.
What are the results of good planning? You develop...
• confidence that you have addressed the priority needs of your library;
• confidence that you have established a firm basis of understanding and a methodology (the planning process) for future planning;
• confidence that automation activities are being implemented as part of a clearly articulated, overall plan for the development of library services; and,
• confidence that you have the ability to respond
quickly and effectively to unexpected opportunities and challenges, with
a clear understanding of how these unexpected developments may be used
to support the library's long range goals.