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Steps of Library Automation

Systems approach to library automation.

The question before the libraries now is not ‘to automate’ or ‘not to automate’ rather ‘how’ to automate. It is a well known fact that considerable human and financial resources are utilized in launching upon automation project. In this connection K.J. Singh (1985) has rightly observed that “no body can deny the advantages of automation, but in developing countries like India, its adoption has to be done with caution, as some of the huge installations may prove to be white elephants, surplus manpower, over–population and unemployment.” Hence, enough care has to be taken at each every stage of the project. Ignoring or overtaking even a minute aspect may later prove to be serious.Library Automation system

Broadly speaking the various aspects involved in automation project, viewed from the angle of System Development Cycle, may be grouped under the following three stages:

  • Planning;
  • Designing; and
  • Operational;

1. Planning Stage:

The first and foremost step in any automation project is the idea to initiate a project. Valid reasons should support such initiations, particularly so in libraries because they are non–profit organizations working under some parental institution. To emphasize this fact Salmon 1975 has rightly opined that “projects should not be started for the reasons that the library should be “modernized” so that it can keep up with the Joneses of the Library world or just to promote the reputation of the library.”

The next step in the planning stage is to conduct a feasibility study about the proposed projects. The outcome of such a study should help the management in determining whet her or not proposed project is feasible. The project is to be considered feasible only if the proposed projects can be useful to the organization. Thus, the purpose of a feasibility study is “to gather, analyze and document the data needed to make an informal, intelligent decision regarding a system’s practicability” (Silverand  Silver,1976).

The following types of feasibility studies may have to be conducted before proceeding further:

  • Technical feasibility;
  • Operational feasibility; and
  • Economic feasibility.

If the overall outcome of feasibility study indicates that the proposed project is feasible, then the activities in the designing stage will be initiated.

2. Designing stage:

Before designing a new automated system, one should carry out a study of the existing system. This study in an evaluation of how current methods are working and the problems involved there in. The result may be taken to determine the features that must be included in a proposed system.

One has to structure the existing system’s study by seeking answers to following questions:

  • What is being done?
  • What is the purpose of the activity?
  • How is it being done?
  • What steps are performed?
  • How frequently does it occur?
  • How long does it take?
  • How great is the volume of transaction?
  • What needs to be changed? etc

The outcome of such a study should help to identify features of the new system including both the information the system should produce and also the operational features such as processing controls, response time, and input and output methods.

An automated system may be designed in many ways. However, it has to be noted here that this is a one–time project which decides the future of the library. So, with enough care and caution, the best solution has to be arrived after considering the advantages and disadvantages of all other possible alternatives.

It is advisable here to share a benefit of the experience of other libraries/information centers that have already launched similar projects. Emphasizing this aspect Salmon (1975) gives a caution that “in early enthusiasm and eagerness to get started, it should not be forgotten to search the literature, to learn (through various means, including contacts with professional  association) of similar projects which have been attempted or implemented, and then to take experience of these projects into account.

The next step in designing the system is normally referred to as ‘logical design’ in contrast to the process of developing actual source code (program/software), which is referred to as ‘physical design’. This is the state where system specifications are made. Because of the technicalities involved in this phase, it is relatively unfamiliar to librarians. These specifications include the details of output, input, files, database interaction, controls and procedures.

The specification should also include the hardware aspect of the system. These specifications are to be well documented so that it is free from ambiguity. In fact, many design tools such as charts, tables, data diagrams, data dictionaries, etc., are used to portray the design accurately.

Physical design follows the logical design. Physical design refers to the development of ‘software’ for automated systems. The life blood of any automated (computerized) system is its software. The software decides the success or failure of a system. Software design should accomplish the following objectives:

  • The actual programs perform all required tasks and do so in the manner intended;
  • The structure of the software permits suitable testing and validation; and
  • Future modifications can be made in an efficient manner and with minimum disruption to the design of the system.

Literature of the field identifies six principles which may be deemed as the characteristics of good software design (Senn, 1989). They are top–town partitioning, loose coupling, functional grouping for cohesion, limited span control, manageable module size, and shared modules. If one follows these principles there is likelihood of achieving acceptable levels of reliability and maintainability of the software.

There are two approaches for software development. One may install purchased software as in turn–key systems or may develop a new custom designed programme. The choice depends on the cost of each option, the time available to write software’s, and the availability of programmers. In any case, the software should be aimed at fulfilling the above objectives and principles.

Further, the software should be well documented so that it ensures easy use of the system and helps in the future development.

3. Operational stage:

If the above mentioned two stages are passed through satisfactorily, a good result the operational stage may be expected. In this stage, for the first time the physical components of the system are placed in their operational environment. The stage in fact consists of two steps: implementation, and evaluation.

  • Implementations:
    Implementation is the process of putting the new equipment to use, train the users, install the new application, and construct the data files required.
    The most important workin implementation is the system conversion. Conversion is the process of changing form the old system to the new one. Depending on the resources and personnel available any one of the following methods of system conversion may be adopted. Each method has its own advantages as well as limitations.
    a. Direct conversion:
    Here, the old system is completely replaced by the new one within a short period of time. The major problem in this conversion method is that there is no other system to fall back on if serious problems arise with the new system.
    b. Parallel conversion: Here the old system is operated along with the new system.Under this approach, both old as well as new systems will be operated simultaneously. This method is the safest conversion approach, since it guarantees that, should problems arise in using the new system, the library can still fall back onthe old system without loss of time, or service.The disadvantages of this method are significant. First of all, the system costs, since there are two sets of systems under operation. In some instances it is necessary tohire temporary personnel to assist in operating both systems simultaneously.

    Second, the fact that the users know they can fall back to the old ways may be adisadvantage. As a consequence,the new system may not get a fair trial.

    c. Phased conversion: This method is used when it is not possible to install a newsystem by the organization all at once. Here the conversion takes place phase by phase.
    The disadvantages of this method may be that it is not suitable for al situations and it is difficult to identify which phase has to be automated first.

    d. Pilot conversion: When a new system involves new techniques or drastic changes in existing routine of the library, the pilot approach may be preferred. The new system is used only in one part of the organization for pilot study. When the systemis deemed functional, it is installed.

    • Evaluation:
      Evaluation of the system conducted at this stage is normally termed as „post–installationevaluation‟. It involves the examination of the system‟s performance. Once theautomated system is introduced in libraries/information centers, they have to bemonitored and evaluated. Evaluation of the system is performed to identify its strengthand weakness.

    The evaluation can occur along any one or more of the following lines:

    a. Operational evaluation: Assessment of the manner in which the system functions including ease of use, suitability of information formats, overall reliability and levels of performance.It may be noted here that the present study intends to conduct this type of evaluation.

    b. Organizational impact: Identification and measurement of the benefits to the organization–financial and/orotherwise.

    d. User–staff assessment: Evaluation of the attitudes of the users as well as the staff towards the new system. It also comprises of the testing of the user–satisfactions of the new system. This is normally termed as subjective evaluation.

    After careful evaluation, the results may be used for suitable modifications in the system to improve the overall efficiency of the system and there by to derive maximum benefit from the system.

    Such evaluations not only assess how well the automated system is designed and implemented, but also provide valuable information for future projects in the same organization (library) and for similar projects in other organization.

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Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

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