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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.