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14 Tips On Selecting Resource Portals

No longer relegated to simply automating processes once done by hand, library automation systems have morphed into full-search resource portals. The latest offerings typically let librarians index Web sites, add related Web links to book records, provide patrons with home access to the library catalog, and many other features.

When shopping for a new library automation system, there are many considerations. Each system may do its job well, but there are significant features that might make one system better for your district's situation than another. Here are some questions to ask and the rationale for asking them.

Key Considerations

1. Does the system use standardized formats for importing and exporting data?
There are two important reasons for having a standardized data format (such as comma-separated values). First, it often makes it much easier for libraries to convert their current digital records to work with a new system. Second, it reduces redundant data entry, allowing schools to populate their patron database with CSV data from their student information system, or conversely export data to a third-party application to create booklists, inventory sheets, and more.

2. Is it SIF-compliant?
A particularly exciting development in library automation is the move by some vendors to make their systems SIF-compliant. The Schools Interoperability Framework (www.sifinfo.org) is an industry initiative to develop an open specification that allows different types of software to "talk" to each other. This means, for example, your current student information system, the library automation system, and any other legacy system can easily and automatically share and update any information they have in common (e.g., student names and home addresses).

3. What type of database is used?
In the past, library automation software used proprietary databases for storing data. This closed environment made it difficult for schools to move to another system and, in some cases, precluded features such as just-in-time support. The system you're considering should be built using newer, open-standards technologies such as SQL, ColdFusion, or XML.

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