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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > September 2004
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Vol. 23 No. 8 — September 2004
FEATURE
Revving Up With a Technology Tuneup
by Janetta Waterhouse

I started as the information technology librarian at Georgian Court University (GCU) in July 2003, straight out of graduate school, only to find that there was not much of a technology budget. This position had been vacant for more than a year, and much of the previous technology had been acquired in unpredictable bursts or as hand-me-downs through the generosity of the campus IT department. Much of the equipment T was dated, and there was no funding for adding new library technologies such as an OpenURL resolver, federated searching, EDI, virtual reference, or electronic reserves.

As businesses, colleges and their libraries must stay relatively current in order to compete. Transfer students may be stepping back half a decade in technology and services when they walk in the door, and new students may never know what they're missing. While I enjoy reading about high-tech possibilities, even open source solutions require a machine for the software to run on and sometimes, let's face it, a considerable amount of time. Making the Most of What You Have for us meant looking at our existing systems and matching them up with our needs to find no-cost solutions. Somehow we needed to be able to increase services and productivity without spending money. We needed a technology tuneup. This is how I accomplished it at GCU. Although these topics are listed separately, this has not been a linear process; many of these projects were happening simultaneously, and some will continue to be tweaked over time.

Tune Up the Engine (or ILS)

The first and biggest tuneup, of course, was to our engine, the Sirsi Unicorn integrated library system. This was the only area where we did spend money. When I arrived, both the software and the hardware dated back to 1999. This is Ford Model T-type technology, especially considering the fact that the library was paying annual, nontrivial software maintenance fees yet was not upgrading when possible. I understand and agree with the idea of not installing the very latest version of anything until the bugs have been worked out (something we leave for libraries with test servers); however, 4 or 5 years is too long to wait. We ended up in the unfortunate position of not being able to upgrade the software without more memory, yet we were unable to add memory because the server was no longer manufactured and the memory that was available (three different sets of it) was not recognized by the system. The only way to drive ahead was with a new server, and the campus administration and library director gave their approval. We migrated to a new Sun server in May 2004. I am in the process of upgrading the software even as I write this. Once I install the most stable version of Unicorn currently available, it will be time to finish the tuneup.

Since an automation system is already such a large investment, it makes sense to take advantage of it as much as possible. Whether or not we had upgraded the hardware, a lot of previously unutilized customization is possible with our ILS: the ability to search our reserves desk, Z39.50 searches with item-level holdings information, system scripts for pesky maintenance tasks, customized reports, individualized login configurations, OPAC Web page customizations, and loading patron data from a registrar data file instead of manual entry. These changes should add up to a marked improvement for the library both internally and externally.

Kicking the Tires (or Support Systems)

Our technology tuneup also extended to several secondary systems that support library functions. For instance, there was one piece of software and one database that were available only via CD within the library, which meant committing a stand-alone workstation for each. The real problems were that they weren't useful in any other capacity, they were mostly unused, and workstation space in the reference area was limited. IT updated the workstations for us so that they are now fully networked, fully tricked out reference workstations with priority given to a particular function, and they are used quite frequently.

We use Ariel for interlibrary loan document transmission and EZproxy for remote authentication of users. Both systems were out-of-date but easy to upgrade, and by running the current version of each, we'll be able to utilize new features to enhance our services and networks in the future.

Serials Solutions, our journal tracking system, has been an exciting part of the tuneup process. I have my eye on the Article Linker level of service, but for now we have the E-Journal Access & Management Suite. Some features that were already available weren't implemented at GCU, and during the past year, we added several other features. Our A-Z title lists, which used to be delivered bimonthly as HTML files, are now hosted by Serials Solutions, and I added title searching and subject browsing as soon as they became available. A nice bonus to the subject browsing feature is that the URLs can be used with subject resource pages (aka Pathfinders) as a way to direct students to online resources. Other features I've utilized are Branding, which allowed me to add our new Web look to the search pages, making the interface appear seamless with our Web site, and Journal Linker, which sends our patrons from an index or abstract citation to full text in our other databases. Unfortunately, I ended up having to speak to a technical service contact for every vendor to get Journal Linking turned on correctly, but it was worth it to be able to send students on to full text when possible.

Probably the best existing feature we implemented was adding our print holdings to the journal search. Our technical services guru created a bibliographic report from Sirsi which I dropped into Excel. It did require quite a bit of work to get it formatted, but now we have a master list of periodical titles in a spreadsheet, and we've found several other uses for it. I sent this spreadsheet to Serials Solutions, and in a very short time our print titles appeared right along with our full-text titles in a journal search.

Someday we may decide to add the MARC records to our catalog, but for the time being it has made a tremendous difference to our instructional efforts and our service to send students and faculty to this one place for electronic and print journal information. We're in the monotonous process of adding start and end dates for print holdings as well as separating print from microforms in the spreadsheet so that the patrons' journal searches will be more informative and so that we will get better results with Serials Solutions' new Overlap Analysis feature.

Borrowing Neighbors' Tools (or Campus Systems)

GCU is fortunate to have IT mechanics. We have network and systems mechanics to turn to for help, an in-house training and development group, and an experienced Webmaster. I have had the good fortune to work with these folks, and we've started up some of our new internal and external library services by finding new ways to use systems that they have purchased and maintained. In some cases I was looking for a way to accomplish a particular task, such as creating e-reserves, and in other cases, new possibilities presented themselves just by working with the existing systems. I'll detail three of them here:

Web pages: A year ago, the library Web pages had two different sets of navigation and appearance, while the campus pages had yet another. Fortunately, when Georgian Court shifted from college to university status in March 2004, the administration decided to update the campus Web site. While a marketing group came up with a new logo and updated the color scheme, style sheet, and navigation, it was up to our Webmaster to propagate those changes through several hundred Web pages, and I was part of her small team. Our site now has an updated look, and, instead of purchasing a virtual reference product, an interlibrary loan management product, and an electronic reserves product, I am completing the additions of Web forms for "Ask a Librarian," InterLibrary Loan Request, Faculty Reserve Request, and Document Delivery Request for distance education students as a no-cost way to add services and functionality. This process did raise one issue for us: The campuswide navigation trickles down to our pages. This has made it difficult for our patrons to find some of our several dozen pages of content, but we hope to gain navigational control over our sub-Web and remedy the problem.

Blackboard: I attended a Blackboard workshop conducted by our IT department, and it didn't take long for me to see the many creative ways that I could use this system. I wanted to move forward with electronic reserves. Some faculty on campus had jumped into the driver's seat, so to speak, and had started to scan and post their own resources. Blackboard to the rescue! IT staff created a generic login ID for the library which they added as a Teaching Assistant (TA) to each class that was interested in e-reserves. If a faculty member who wanted e-reserves didn't use Blackboard, IT created the course for us. Once we had access to the course, Access Services staff created an E-Reserves folder and an item with the copyright disclaimer. They scanned the articles into PDFs with the scanner attached to our Ariel machine and then added the documents to the E-Reserves folder with some citation information. Some reserve items were available within our databases and didn't need to be scanned; for those items, IT created a link to the database with information on how to locate the article (alas, no OpenURL resolver). After that it was just a matter of directing students to the online course.

There was one snag, and one area that needed improvement. It turns out that some faculty are skittish about the idea of adding a TA to their classes. Of course, we only wish to use our powers for good and not evil, but their concern is understandable, and some may opt out of e-reserves because of it. So instead of adding an E-Reserves folder within the Course Documents content area, we are improving the system by creating a separate content area entitled E-Reserves. It is always visible, rather than being buried in a folder, and it's much more intuitive.

Another use we found for the course management system was information literacy delivery. IT created an Information Literacy course in Blackboard with one librarian as the instructor and the rest as TAs. IT enrolled everyone on campus in our course. We created folders representing subject areas and continue to add and update items in the form of bibliographies, research briefs, Internet sites, and tutorials.

IT also created a Library Training course for me. I have enrolled everyone in the library and intend to place materials related to my library technology training there for easy access. As for documentation, I have a Library Technology course in Blackboard with folders for each area of technology in which I place instructions, manuals, and useful Internet sites.

Lotus Notes: The campus e-mail system is turning out to be a surprising addition to our toolbox. Each account in Lotus Notes comes with e-mail, a calendar, and a to-do list. By having IT create generic accounts for reference and our instructional classroom and delegating access to the individuals who need it, we were able to provide e-mail reference service and decrease scheduling hassles. Everyone who works on the reference desk can check the reference e-mail account from anywhere. The librarians use the accompanying calendar to note days out or check the rotating weekend schedule. We largely ignore the e-mail account that comes with the instructional classroom, but we use the calendar to schedule the room. This is helpful because when the librarians aren't using the room for instruction, anyone on campus can schedule meetings or training through the library secretary.

One drawback of the Lotus Notes e-mail is its inability to sort by subject, an option some other programs have been able to do for years. If there is an ongoing electronic conversation among several people, it's difficult to track without creating dozens of mailboxes in which to put the messages. Then along came Team Rooms. Once created by IT, we only had to add participants before Team Rooms was ready to use. Basically, members of the room can create a document, respond to a document, or respond to a response. The original document, once responded to, becomes collapsible so that team members can ignore some topics and focus on others. The first Team Room was for the Library Newsletter Committee. This provided a way for us to discuss ideas without clogging up our in boxes. Now we have a generic Library Team Room to post shared documents such as schedules, office forms, and usage statistics as well as a Reference Team Room for organizing reference information by subject area. Our Access Services and Technical Services units each have a Team Room and are deciding how best to utilize them. An added benefit of Team Rooms is that we can develop them as we learn more about the features available. They are certainly more than bulletin boards, so we're still learning.

More Visits to the Shop

The library's budget limitations are going to continue as far as technology is concerned, so we'll be back in the shop again for continuing tuneups. Not many complaints here, though, because we are at least starting to move forward with replacement workstations. Even with the systems currently in place, I can continue to find ways to make the most of our technology. For instance, I will be setting up our Ariel system to deliver documents via e-mail, adding electronic document delivery to our patron services. A usability study to improve navigation of the library's Web site and a system and network security checkup (which includes converting our EZproxy server to "proxy by hostname" so that we can close up a firewall port) are also on my list. I can proceed with virtual reference either by using free instant messaging or by using the virtual classroom component of Blackboard within our online Information Literacy course.

In the end, it's all about attitude. I'm currently reading Technology Paradise Lost: Why Companies Will Spend Less to Get More from Information Technology and am convincing myself that we're actually ahead of the curve instead of behind it by not spending as much on IT within the library.

 

Reference

Keller, Erik. Technology Paradise Lost: Why Companies Will Spend Less to Get More from Information Technology. Greenwich: Manning Publications Co., 2004.


Janetta Waterhouse is the information technology librarian at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J. She holds an M.A. in library and information science from The University of Iowa in Iowa City. Her e-mail address is jan@janwaterhouse.com.
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