The Safety Information Center at Triodyne, Inc.. provides library services to the firm's engineers and scientists as well as fee-based research services for external clients. The library's diverse collection supports mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, human factors, vehicle operation and design, product liability, and safety engineering.
We estimate that there are about 160,000 potential machine-readable records in our collection, of which about 3% (the book collection) is catalogued through OCLC. The remaining resources include current and retrospective government reports, standards, patents, product literature, an extensive vertical file collection, vehicle manuals, a special collection on fire, and a collection of deposition transcripts. This proportion illustrates a problem many science-based libraries have: much of the working collection is nonjournal and nonbook material. Yet this is precisely the material that benefits most from fast access through standard bibliographic practices. Of the library staff of sixteen, only four catalog and maintain the files. Therefore, any file management activities have to be simple, fast, and easy to learn and implement.
Begun in 1979, the library became automated in the early '80s with the purchase and installation of digital-based (VAX) WPS-Plus/VMS. This software became the basis for eight separate collections. WPS-Plus/VMS provided the opportunity to create bibliographic records and list process them; subject searches and quick sorts were impossible. When other departments at Triodyne bought computers, they purchased IBM PCs and Macintoshes, thus establishing an environment under which noncompatible systems existed. The lack of standardization became a drain on productivity. After an executive-level evaluation, the company decided to develop a PC local area network (LAN), retain the Macs (essential for our graphic department), and concentrate on changing the library VAX to PCs.
To prepare for the switch to PCs, the library developed a plan that included the following: a description of current applications, a list of current library software, a "wish list" of future library applications, a list of desirable features (for instance, variable length fields, Boolean search features, networkable, import/export, and so forth), and a list of the equipment that would be needed. Our future applications list was a jumble of bibliographic, invoicing, administrative, and word processing requirements. We realized we needed a general-purpose software program that could be used to develop different kinds of databases, allowed searches, was user-friendly and easy to manage. Although the switch from VAX to PC was "mandated" from the top, we were optimistic that this was an opportunity to improve our day-to-day operations and speed up our year-end reporting process.
The library began by evaluating PC software (hardware requirements were handled later by our technical staff). One of our most immediate needs was to track the library's acquisitions activities and we kept that foremost in mind during the evaluation process.
The library was already using PARADOX, a relational database manager, and INMAGIC, a text manager, for special one-time-only applications. Because they were already in place, we considered them first. The librarians most closely involved with both strongly believed that PARADOX was too difficult for the existing staff and INMAGIC was not multifaceted enough for our needs.
After a review of the literature, it became apparent that flat-file database software had progressed to the point where it would meet our three basic criteria, that is, enable searches, be user friendly, and be easy to manage. We identified several candidates, obtained and studied review articles, ordered demo disks, set up a test database based on the acquisition files we wanted to track, and tested each demo. The test database included as many different kinds of acquisitions records as we could think of. We reviewed past activities to identify the statistics and bibliographic information that would be useful to pull out with only a few keystrokes. Most demos offered limited testing capability (such as the capability of setting up one test file of only 25 documents), as well as limits on available functions. We did not find demo limitations to be a problem because the review articles were helpful in explaining further software features. The two leading contenders were askSam Systems' askSam and Symantec's Q&A. We selected Q&A, because of its ease of use, clear applicability to our requirements, and because we liked its "look" on the screen.
Why didn't we choose library-based software? We did not find any that offered the general flexibility and usefulness we saw in Q&A and askSam. As a library with limited funds and time available for cataloging and data entry, we sought easy-to-use software with broad application to many kinds of files. Standardization was a library issue as well as a company issue. We wanted to avoid having one software program for a few applications, and another software program for others, plus WordPerfect 5.1 (company preference) for our word processing and perhaps another for our invoicing
Q&A 4.0 (for DOS) is database and word processing software. It is a flat-file database that permits "lookups," or links, between separate files and allows programming statements that direct the cursor, perform calculations, or insert values. File changes (updates) are quick and easy with the mass update command.
Installation was straight forward, requiring loading the software onto the hard drive and specifying the printers. The documentation was generally good, and a tutorial was included. We found the slim booklet, Getting Started, to be very useful for a quick-start. Overall internal training time averaged two hours per person. In addition, we subscribed to Pinnacle Publishing's newsletter, The Quick Answer; an Independent Monthly Guide to Q&A Expertise, and ordered a series of booklets on specific application (for instance, how to do invoicing). We found both to be very useful.
We began developing a list of field names based on the earlier test. To design a new file, we followed the menu. A blank screen starts the design process. Type in field names followed by colons; dress up the form with boxes and lines, or keep it simple. Up to 10 pages of forms are allowed. Q&A permits customized help screens, a feature we used with the very first file. They serve as a reminder of earlier editing decisions and are very useful for occasional users. We also edited the design several times, a simple, follow-the-menu process that involved making changes on the screen and saving them. We could add or delete fields, change field locations on the form, designate keyword fields to enable thesaurus construction, and designate date or currency fields.
Our resulting design fits on one screen and comes with a line of function key reminders at the bottom. Data entry is fill-in-the-blank. Fields are actually variable in length (up to a maximum of 32K of data per field) because the F6 function key invokes an expansion feature. Standard searching options include Boolean operators, truncation, and search by ranges. Q&A also can display (with one keystroke) the records in table format. This is useful for editing and may be used for limited searching.
We wanted to track expenditures by department and gather year-end totals for the library's annual report. The report and math (count and total) functions in the columnar style provided all the necessary tools to accomplish this. These two fairly simple reports have saved hours of time spent manually calculating expenditures. In addition, we estimate that the capability to search immediately in Q&A's acquisition file for the status of an order rather than search through paper files saves about a half hour per day.
The center circulates research books and staff-compiled bibliographies within and outside the organization. The manual, sign-out-with-card method was not helpful in cases where we wanted to generate a list of clients, so we considered Q&A. The result is a circulation file from which we produce totals for the annual report, produce client lists on label stock (using Q&A's label option) for mailings, and identify the books that have been checked out for the longest period of time (and perhaps pry them loose from the borrower).
We also use Q&A for capturing interlibrary loan statistics for the library's annual report. We designed a simple records form and used a restricted fields application for the "library type" field. The restricted values appear on the right half of the screen when a function key is struck. Scrolling through the list of values and pressing Enter adds the value to the record. This results in clean data entry and makes it easier to produce reports later.
In addition to producing annual totals, we may now analyze trends. At the end of 1991, we noticed that, for the first time, our interlibrary loans to medical and legal libraries were growing faster than loans to public and academic libraries. This trend mirrors our collection development efforts and reflects our efforts to increase our OCLC listings. Other collection analysis is also possible, limited only by the amount of detail included in the data entry and the time we have available for analysis.
With the center's old method of tracking work-in-progress (essentially a chronological log in a three-ring binder), the long-term projects tended to get lost in the list. Q&A came through again. After data entry, the roughly 100 projects per month are sorted and printed by researcher, by engineer requesting the project, or chronologically.
The work-in-progress report includes researchers' initials, date the project came in, case name, engineer, subject, type of work done, and status of the work. Each month is closed out by the researchers themselves, who indicate which projects are finished. This simple database is useful to track all assignments and measure accomplishments. We estimate that at year-end, this file saves several weeks of manual compilation and report typing time.
The true excitement began, however, when we imported our first file from WPS-PIus/ VMS. Fortunately, some of our VAX documents had been designed with fields. After we designed records forms and cleaned up the records in the VAX files, we did an ASCII transfer to Q&A. In short order, we transferred the video file, auto manual file, technical papers, government reports, and patents. Some of the files required additional attention, such as mass update. spell check, and duplicate removal, all easy to do with Q&A.
After we finished transferring files, we merged some of them to make searching more streamlined. Now a word search in just one file provides access to reports from several sources. Q&A offers several search options. To perform a simple search, just type in the word/value in a blank form. To truncate, add two periods at the end of the word. To find the word anywhere in the field, type two periods before and immediately following the word. Boolean searches can be done by moving through a series of screens or using the Intelligent Assistant, a search aid. In addition, we are able to provide printed custom reports to our clients (for instance, all reports on tires) for their review and selection and are phasing out the separate index card files we used previously.
When we began data entry in our newly transferred Q&A files, we duplicated the record design into a second file for data entry only. This was a menu-driven operation requiring selection of the "copy design only" option and specifying the file from which the copy should be made. There was no need to enter the form a second time; in addition, all report instructions are copied along with the design. It is then a simple process to review the data entry for errors, print reports if necessary, and merge it with the main file.
Q&A has an automatic numbering capability that works well for assigning the accession-type numbers we use in these files; it requires that the field be programmed to increment the number each time a new document is added. This prevents reusing a number and avoids the hassle of keeping track of the last number used.
Our latest Q&A application involves simple programming via the lookup option. The center's invoicing function had been done on a typewriter by the person who finished the project and without regard to any standard style. Using Q&A's lookup function, we set up invoicing procedures that link document files with client files into a third transaction file from which an invoice is generated. The total cost of the item, with sales tax, handling costs, and quantity, is calculated. The client's name and address is inserted on the invoice automatically.
We estimate that the Q&A invoicing procedure saves about 10 minutes on each invoice, a significant time savings for our average of 20 invoices per week. The invoice file is useful for year-end reports, and the names and addresses form a client list for marketing activities. In addition, one person handles all invoicing, and the in voices are now uniform in layout and terminology and are free of math and typing errors.
Our original goal is soon to be met. Our VAX pull-the-plug party is scheduled for sometime in the next two weeks and our VAX files now reside in PC land on Q&A or WordPerfect. Q&A fits our original specifications very well. It is easy to use, can be used for many kinds of databases, and allows searching capability. Although not part of oar original goals, we have quantified a small amount of "saved time" as a result of Q&A. Perhaps even more important are the qualitative benefits: improved quality control, faster, more professional response to inquiries, better analysis of library services, and improved staff morale due to better control over the collection.
We have not used all of Q&A's features; some do not fit our current needs (e.g., CrossTab Reports), and some we haven't explored fully (e.g., Intelligent Assistant). We use the word processing software for invoicing but prefer WordPerfect 5.1 for most other applications.
Triodyne recently established the Novell LAN referred to earlier and the library is just beginning to function within it. To address the opportunities available through LAN access, a new company-wide LAN planning group has been set up. The library is represented in this group; we plan to place the library Q&A files on the network (using Q&A's network-specific security) for our secretaries and engineers, who have begun to use Q&A for their own specialized files. Other applications will emerge as the group progresses.
For our library at this point in its computer evolution, Q&A works. We are able to manage our specialized databases using standard bibliographic practices, and have improved our invoicing, reporting, and analytic functions. Q&A has paved the way for exciting next steps: improving library bibliographic control by building new databases and developing the LAN.
Dewey, Patrick R. 202 + Software Packages to Use in Your Library; Descriptions, Evaluations, and Practical Advice. Chicago, American Library Association, 1992.
Fernald, Anne Conway. Database Design; an Introductory Guide to Planning and Creating a Database. Washington, D.C., Special Libraries Association, 1991.
Khoo, Christopher, Hong-Kiat Ong, and Sylvia Yap. "Serials fiscal control using a flat-file database management system on a microcomputer." The Serials Librarian v. 20(1) 1991. pp. 91-105.
Moulton, Lynda W. Databases for Special Libraries; a Strategic Guide to Information Management. New York, Greenwood Press, 1991.
Scoville, Richard. "Data Management: Up Close and Personal." PC World v.9(7) July 1991. pp. 142-159.
Spector, Lincoln. "A Livelier Q&A." PC World v.9(7) July 1991. pp. 103-105.
Wright, Kathy. "Bibliographic Database Management in an R&D Organization: Information Specialists Helping End-Users." Database v.15(3) June 1992. pp. 35-40.
Sharon I. Meyer is Director of Information Services and Kimberly L. Last is Librarian and Database Manager at Triodyne, Inc., Niles, IL.…