Magazine article American Libraries

Saga of an RFP for an Automated System

Magazine article American Libraries

Saga of an RFP for an Automated System

Article excerpt

In fall 1980, the director, assistant director, and the three regional managers of the 16-branch Genesee District Library of Flint, Mich., first began discussing the possibilities of automating our circulation system. Two-and-a-half years later, after extensive research and investigations, writing and reviewing a request for proposal (RFP), careful analysis of the vendor responses, demonstrations, library board actions, and contract negotiations, GDL finally signed a contract with an automated-system vendor.

At the beginning, journal articles on automation made us realize we needed more information. GDL Director Marian Gamble, then assistant director, and I, then manager of the southern region, enrolled in a graduate course in library automation offered by the University of Michigan Extension Office in Dearborn. The professor, Edwin Cortez, taught the basics of the technology and discussed the historical development of library automation and the methodology used to analyze the vendors and their products.

Our class studied automation functions and their impact on the library environment. The analysis of library needs helped us review our own needs at GDL, and this review became the groundwork for the development of our functional specifications. The course work also exposed us to computer terminology, and the detailed examination of vendors and their products pointed up the advantages as well as limitations of automation.

Our reading assignments included some authors already familiar to us, such as Richard Boss and Joseph Matthews. The Journal of Library Automation (now Information Technology and Libraries), Library Technology Reports, American Libraries, and Library Journal were mandatory reading, and still are, for anyone striving to keep up with current developments in the field. Preliminary investigations

While we were taking the course, Gamble and I began investigating microcomputers and systems along with Edward Whittaker, then GDL director. A local vendor proposed using a distributed system in a configuration of four branches communicating with a database at the regional library or with all 15 branches communicating directly with the Central Processing Unit (CPU) at GDL Headquarters in Flint.

Because we were studying distributive processing in our class, we were familiar with the vendor's concept. We were apprehensive about the limited library software then available for microcomputers. We studied compatible packages and discussed the possibility of custom software written specifically for GDL.

We learned a lot from the experience, but found we spent most of our time with the vendors explaining library needs. The vendors' lack of familiarity with libraries made us question their ability to provide the database management system and software options we needed. The programmers working with these commercial systems had no experience with MARC formats or library patron files. We needed communication between the branches in the three regions as well as with headquarters. The microcomputer configurations didn't solve the problem. ALA Annual Conference input

Just before ALA Annual Conference 1981 in San Francisco, I attended the June 25-26 preconference on "Automated Circulation: An Examination of Choices," cosponsored by the Library Administration and Management Association and the Library and Information Technology Association. At the highly informative workshops and meetings, we shared ideas with librarians experienced in automation. Vendors were given the opportunity to discuss their products and their relationships with librarians. We heard that the Chicago Public Library, Evergreen State College, and the King County Library System in Washington had produced exemplary RFPs and were encouraged to acquire them and others.

At the Annual Conference exhibits I visited the computer vendors and collected information on systems and their projected enhancements. …

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