Computers in Libraries
Vol. 22, No. 3 • March 2002

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Automating the Antiquated: Revolutionizing the Card Catalog
by Diana Loreman

Few libraries can survive in the present day without offering online access to their collections. However, until recently the David Library of the American Revolution, in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, where I spent my first professional year as research librarian, did just that. Its unique and highly specialized collection of 10,000 reels of microfilm (some of which are the only domestic copies available for researchers), a marvelous collection of 18th century newspapers, and 7,500 monographs and pamphlets, attracts scholars and genealogists from all over the country.

All of our records were printed on little cards in the wooden drawers of our oaken card catalog that sat against the wall in the center of the reading room. This was the main access point to our collection and it covered formats such as monograph, pamphlet, microform, microform guides, and newspapers, as well as our small rare book and pamphlet collection. A letter or series of letters after the accession number differentiated the formats and doubly served as the call number for each item.

The distinctive nature of the collection made it possible to fend off the dominating culture of technology and remain a peaceful island of antiquity for much longer than it probably should have. The only electronic offerings that we had for our patrons were a Web site with a description of our collections, e-mail reference for distance patrons, and a few searchable CD-ROMs. Compared to some of the larger, but less specialized, collections such as those at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the American Philosophical Society, we offered very little online presence. On numerous occasions we received inquiries as to when our collections would be available electronically, and when we might install an online catalog.

My predecessor had begun the process of automating the David Library, and I inherited the project with the position back in June of 2000. I arrived right out of library school with a fresh perspective and a feel for the cutting-edge technology that was currently permeating the field. The project thus far had consisted of a proposal from the automation software company, SydneyPLUS (, which was used to give the board a sense of the costs involved, and applications to two grants to aid in the project's funding.

The two grants in process were a large federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant for first-time automation projects, which we did not receive, and a state grant from the Access Pennsylvania project, which is a large database of Pennsylvania libraries' holdings. We were awarded the Access Pennsylvania grant and were told that Brodart, the folks doing the retrospective conversion, would contact us in approximately 8 weeks.

I was disappointed that we did not receive the LSTA grant, which would have been very beneficial to us financially, but we were fortunate to have a generous endowment, which would easily fund the project. I found that without the confines of an LSTA grant, I had much more freedom in molding the automation project into something cost-effective and appropriate to our needs as a special collection library.

Devising a New Strategy
I rethought the automation project, and being the sole person on the project, I had little dispute among the ranks. I had only to answer to the director, who suffered from an overall aversion to technology, and the board of trustees, whose majority consisted of people who weren't professional librarians and who had trouble differentiating between the acronyms OPAC and OCLC. Two individuals on the board were library professionals and were able to act as interpreters for the rest of the board members, and also to keep me in check.

I reviewed the SydneyPLUS figures and decided $60,000 was just too expensive for a basic system with the OPAC module. We would still need to run our acquisitions from a bare-bones MS Access program created by a volunteer, as well as our patron records, and continue to have our cataloging outsourced. Another issue was that SydneyPLUS catered its software to its corporate library clients, which did not fit our needs. We fell into the special library category, but not corporate.

I took this opportunity to delve into the literature to research other automation systems. I solicited suggestions from colleagues, but with the unique nature of the David Library's collection, I had difficulty finding a good match. One reference that I used extensively and highly recommend is Pamela Cibbarelli's book, Directory of Library Automation Software, Systems, and Services. 1

Zeroing In on the Target
Flipping through the Cibbarelli book, I was able to narrow down the available systems significantly. The two major qualifierswere that the system had to be Z39.50 compatible (a prerequisite for our Access Pennsylvania grant, so that we could share our holdings information with other Pennsylvania libraries) and willing to accept a collection of fewer than 10,000 volumes.

I narrowed down the search to eight software systems, and then sent each of them a somewhat informal request for information (RFI) via e-mail. I then sat back and enjoyed being schmoozed by salespeople anxious to satisfy all my automation needs.

The information poured in, and I eagerly perused each colorful packet to determine which software company would make it to the next level. I also took the time to review the sample OPACs from each vendor to see how user-friendly the systems were. Since we were open to the public as well as to professional researchers, we required both simple and advanced search functions.

The samples I reviewed were generally the working OPACs of current clients. The vendor simply provided a Web address and a guest login to access each one. Reviewing them was key to narrowing down the large pool of potentials. Three of the eight did not fit our needs, being either geared more toward a school library, too expensive, or cheap but lacking key features such as an acquisitions module.

Five Companies Promoted

The five companies and products that I chose to enter into the final process were:

  • EOSi/Q Series
  • Sanderson/Spydus
  • SIRS/Mandarin M3
  • SIRSI/Unicorn
  • VTLS/Virtua
My next step was to prepare a request for a proposal (RFP), but I had barely an idea of how to go about writing one. I referenced some proposals that other libraries had written, but none seemed to fit our needs. For the most part they were very basic, and we had specific parameters that needed to be addressed.

The David Library does not have a circulating collection, so we did not require that module of the software, though it became apparent that the circulation module functioned as the core module in most automation systems. We also have a small collection with many unique resources, so we needed a system flexible enough to accommodate our idiosyncrasies.

The most difficult part for me was relaying in the RFP what we required in terms of hardware. We needed to network our computers and have a place to house the automation software, so we needed a server. This was new territory for me, and I was terrified to make a costly mistake, so I petitioned some outside help from a loyal volunteer, who happened to also work in the computer industry. Big lesson: Never underestimate the power of volunteers in your library, especially ones with strong technology backgrounds.

Someone suggested that I contact one of the vendors and have it send me a sample RFP. I did that and received an 80-plus-page document from SIRSI. It was very detailed, probably too much for our needs, but it served as a template for the one that I created, and it covered a good bit of the strange new world of servers. After I had whittled down the 80 pages to 50 or so, adding and removing parts, I gave it to the director for final approval.

In late September of 2000 I sent out five copies of the RFP to the five chosen companies, giving them a month to return their proposals to me. In the interim I received numerous phone calls for elucidation on certain aspects of the proposal.

Awarding the Top Honors
By the deadline, I had received three proposals, and letters from both Sanderson and SIRS stating that they were unable to meet too many of the requirements for the proposal and so declined to submit. This automatically narrowed my choices to three.

I reviewed each proposal in detail and found all three to be very good systems for our requirements. I then arranged them in price order, with SIRSI's Unicorn being the least expensive, then VTLS' Virtua, and EOSi's Q Series last. Both Virtua and Q Series greatly exceeded our price range. My suggestion to the director was that we go with Unicorn, as it met all of our needs and was the least expensive. I sent rejection letters to the other two vendors stating that they were too far outside of the budgeted amount for the project. VTLS sent us good wishes, but EOSi countered the rejection with an offer that underbid SIRSI.

The Q Series system looked fabulous, and we couldn't pass up a deal that nearly halved the original price. I had not yet accepted SIRSI's proposal, so at my recommendation we went with the Q Series automation system. Everyone at the library was very excited, and I developed a strong relationship with an EOSi representative who was assigned to help us with the setup and implementation of the system. Our representative ordered the server, so we only had to wait until we had our card catalog put into electronic format on a CD-ROM for implementation.

Retrospective Conversion
The last time I had heard from Brodart was in July of 2000. In early November, soon after we signed the contract with EOSi, I contacted Brodart, as 8 weeks had passed with no word of when our catalog would be converted. The staff there had no idea who I was or what the David Library was when I called, which put a bit of a damper on all our excitement. Eventually they found our work order from the state, and then put a questionnaire and a list of directions in the mail, along with the boxes for our shelflist.

We had begun using OCLC's cataloging services for original and copy cataloging back in 1994. Part of our contract with OCLC had allowed us to supplement our printed cards with the corresponding MARC records in electronic format on a 3.5-inch disk. Those records obviously did not need to be converted, so we concentrated on records prior to 1994. Since we had arranged our collection by accession number in lieu of Dewey or LC, the process was very simple for us. In the end I sent approximately 4,500 cards to Brodart for retrospective conversion.

A difficulty arose when I received a phone call from Brodart after it had received our shelflist. Evidently nearly the first half of the cards I had sent there were so old that they were not present in OCLC's union catalog. Brodart did basic retrospective conversion by using records present in OCLC and then making additions to the records as needed. Since many of ours were not in the union catalog, the company would not be able to convert them with the state money they had received. We would have to pay for the process ourselves, which was too expensive to consider at that time. So we would have to input the data ourselves once our automation system had been installed.

Communications in the Fort
Once we received our CD-ROM from Brodart, I packaged it up along with the post-1994 OCLC floppy disks and sent it all off to EOSi in Carlsbad, California, to await my implementation training, which was scheduled in Carlsbad for early April. Until then I needed to focus on networking the library and finding a broadband Internet connection, preferably a DSL or cable modem.

Our main issue with broadband was location. The David Library is housed on farmland (that is still farmed) on a tract of land that was once part of the land commissioned to William Penn in the 17th century. The location is somewhat rural, and DSL would not be available for quite some time. Cable modems were available in some areas around the library, but not directly in our area. The local cable company told me that broadband would be available in March, and so I decided to wait until then to move further on connecting our library to the Internet.

I began researching my networking options right away. The David Library had five computers at the time, all dispersed throughout the building. The architecture of the building included a lot of open space, and the library itself was not all that large. Initially I leaned toward a wireless network because of the openness of the building, the potential for researchers in the future to be able to access the network via wireless LAN adapter cards, and no need to hide ugly CAT 5 wiring. Unfortunately, all the quotes I got on the wireless system were twice as much as a wired network, so I began to reconsider.

I eventually received a more modest quote from a local computer consulting company. I took the itemized quote and (using my super librarian skills) researched each piece of equipment. I found the quote to be very close to the mark, had I bought each item myself. I negotiated a bit with the labor cost, preaching the virtues of nonprofit organizations, and we received a slight discount. I only had to call them in to do the installation.

Moving into Formation
In early April I flew out to California to have my implementation training. For 2 days I sat in a conference room with our EOSi representative who went over every aspect of the server as we set up each parameter together. It was absolutely amazing. I could not have formulated a more efficient means by which to set up a server exactly to the specifications and needs of our library than to sit with our EOSi representative and do it together. The training eliminated any mistakes, any second-guessing, and any tedious phone calls from California to Pennsylvania and vice versa. Not only did I have a major hand in setting up the server and the automation software, but I also learned many of its intricacies, and it instilled a great sense of anticipation for having the final product in-house.

Soon after I returned from Carlsbad, I reviewed the project budget and noticed that I had saved nearly $6,000 with my savvy pricing, expert negotiations, and wise decision making. Rather than lose the money, I purchased four desktop units from Dell Computers, one to act as the main patron access to the catalog, and the other three to replace the three seriously obsolete beasts that were currently taking up space in the library.

Important Connections
We received the server first, and after checking the packing slip for accuracy, I called the network people to make an appointment for our installation. I left everything boxed for the installation day, figuring that my lack of experience with servers might prove detrimental to everything. I received the computers from Dell within the same week and got them up and running.

Soon thereafter, our network people sent out a lone young man to spend the day networking the David Library. In just a few hours he had set up our server and had each computer intercommunicating without a blue CAT 5 cable to be seen. He even installed the Q Series software, which worked fabulously. The only thing left to do was to get the OPAC up and running through the cable modem and to have our week of in-house Q Series software training, which was scheduled for the first week in May. This was a very exciting time for our little library.

On the Internet connection front, I had been in contact with the cable company on numerous occasions. I talked to at least five different people with five different stories, until finally someone told me that a cable modem would not be available to our section of the township for quite some time. DSL was still out of the question, and a T-1, even a fractal, was just too expensive for us. So I entertained my last two options: a satellite system or an ISDN line.

I researched the satellite option, but found that we would only be able to download from the satellite dish, not upload data, which was important in order for us to be able to provide service to our remote patrons. A dish with both capabilities was not going to be available until August, so I called up Verizon and inquired about ISDN. It was inexpensive and effective. They sent someone out the next week to install the line, and we kissed our analog modems goodbye.

Our Automation Revolution
The first week in May, a very vociferous woman from EOSi came to our library to train our part-time library assistant and me on the nuances and intricacies of the Q Series software. The system was absolutely impressive, and I was nearly moved to tears to see our MARC record of The Writings of George Washington pop up on the screen right before my eyes. It had taken nearly a year, but there was all my work manifested in that record displayed on the computer screen.

The automation of our holdings gave us more freedom than we could have ever hoped for. We were no longer dependent upon OCLC to do our copy cataloging for us. We no longer had to use a simple MS Access database for our acquisitions records. The best thing about the automation system was the fact that we could now offer improved services to our patrons, even patrons who lived a thousand miles away—at least once I managed to get our OPAC up and running.

My last task was to research, purchase, and have installed a router specifically for the OPAC. Unfortunately, I left the David Library before that task was completed, but I took with me the wonderful feeling of having automated a library that had been dependent upon a wooden card catalog since its inception in 1973. Having won technological independence in the automation revolution, the David Library of the American Revolution entered into the 21st century unscathed and all the better.


1. Cibbarelli, Pamela and Shawn E. 2000. Directory of Library Automation Software, Systems, and Services (Medford, N.J.: Information Today, Inc.).

Further Reading

Swan, James. 1996. Automating Small Libraries (Ft. Atkinson, W.I.: Highsmith Press).

"Automated System Marketplace"—an annual review of vendors, software, and automation trends—in Library Journal (for the 2000 Marketplace, visit

SLA's Solo Librarians' "Survey of Library Automation Systems in Use at Various Libraries,"

ALA's Library Technology Reports,

The LITA division of ALA (an incredible help to me, including the listserv, which I highly recommend),
If you are interested in developing your own RFP, you might consider the following resources online:

Integrated Library Systems Reports' Sample RFPs

Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources:
Library System Request for Proposals (RFP)

You may also consider contacting the David Library and asking for a copy of the RFP that I prepared:

The David Library of the American Revolution
P.O. Box 748
1201 River Rd.
Washington Crossing, PA 18977

To Contact the Companies

EOS International
Q Series
One Carlsbad Research Center
2382 Faraday Ave., Suite 350
Carlsbad, CA 92008-7258
800/876-5484, 760/431-8400

Level 13, 33 Berry St.
North Sydney, New South Wales 2600

SIRS Publishing, Inc.
Mandarin M3
P.O. Box 272348
Boca Raton, FL 33427-2348

101 Washington St. SE
Huntsville, AL 35801-4827

VTLS, Inc.
1701 Kraft Dr.
Blacksburg, VA 24060

Diana Loreman is currently the extension services librarian at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Prior to this, she was the research librarian at the David Library of the American Revolution, where she functioned as a solo librarian and headed this automation project. She holds an M.L.I.S. from Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her e-mail address is
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