How to Plan for Library Automation

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Introducing an Integrated Library System (ILS) or automating a library, as librarians often call the procedure, is the process by which an integrated resource planning system takes the place of a card or other type of non-computerized catalog, in order to track and inventory a library’s collection. Planning an automation project carefully is one of the most important steps in ensuring that library automation occurs effectively and efficiently.

Evaluate staffing needs. Implementing and executing an automation project requires additional work and may require additional staff. If your technical services department does not have a cataloger on staff, you may need to hire one for the duration of the project, if not permanently, to fill the role of ILS administrator.

Plan your budget. Before you even begin to research automation systems, it is a good idea to know how much you have to spend on automation in the first place. Decide if you will need to hire new staff, and determine what type of additional purchases must be made in order to successfully automate your library. Additional staff, computers, barcodes, barcode scanners and miscellaneous cataloging supplies are some of the expenses that are occasionally overlooked when libraries decide to automate their collections.

Once you know how much money your project will cost, start researching automation systems. You will soon learn that there are systems available to fit every price range and collection size imaginable. Knowing your budget, and having an idea of what features you can and cannot live without, will help you eliminate a vast majority of systems and focus on ones that will best meet your needs. Talking to other libraries in your area and finding out what systems they have used and what has worked (and what has not worked) for them should be included in your research agenda.

Choose an automation system that best fits your needs. After researching ILS systems and after deciding on a few finalists, contact vendors. Most will offer you a trial version of the ILS you are interested in purchasing. This will be very beneficial if you can’t decide which system you prefer on price and features alone. Your final decision should be an ILS that is affordable, meets the needs of your collection and staff, and is easily applicable.

Train your personnel. After you have purchased the automation system that you wish to implement, and have decided on your staffing needs, train the individuals responsible for automation on how to use the new system. Many vendors offer in-class training seminars, and most offer online tutorials. Take advantage of whatever training tools the vendor offers. If you have chosen an automation system that another local library uses, check to see if they would be willing to allow your staff to shadow their staff on the job, or see if they have a staff member willing to work as a consultant as you introduce the new ILS into your library.

Tips

  • Most states offer grant funding for automation projects through the Library Services and Technology Act. When planning your budget, consider applying for a grant to help meet the costs of automation. Include training and consulting services in your budget. Ensuing you have the staff necessary to complete the project and making sure they are properly trained will be as important as choosing the right ILS.

About the Author

Kara Allison received her bachelor's degree in English and comparative literature from the University of Cincinnati and her master's degree in library and information science from Kent State University. She is currently employed as an academic librarian in Cincinnati, Ohio. Allison has been a contributing writer for various websites since 2007.

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