Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Today, North Carolina, Tomorrow, the World

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Today, North Carolina, Tomorrow, the World

Article excerpt

I was in the next town over when I decided to stop at the Blockbuster to rent a movie. "I'm sorry," said the manager, "you'll need to sign up at your local Blockbuster in order to use your card here." Grudgingly, I made my way home. After work one evening, I stopped at my Blockbuster. "I'm sorry," said the pimple-faced clerk, "you'll have to come back between nine and five, when my manager's here." Boy, was I frustrated and ... Wait a second, that wasn't the Blockbuster, it was a university library!

Getting a video shouldn't be easier than doing academic research. Nevertheless, some library users have to jump through more hoops than a dog-show poodle just to get the privilege of borrowing a simple text. Like the analogy above, we send our users back home, quashing the serendipity that often leads to knowledge. We make them go to the "Main Library," as if this administrative distinction meant anything to them. With half a dozen credit cards or thousands in loans from Sallie Mae, we educate/scold the user with $5 in fines about becoming a patron "in good standing." But just when logic seemed to be escaping us, the wise directors of the University of North Carolina Libraries (There are 16 schools in the UNC System, and contrary to popular belief, NC State is one of them.) mandated that a better system be put in place.

Baby Steps, Giant Leaps

To enable reciprocal borrowing, short of buying a union catalog and converting half the state to another system, we had to get creative. Now you folks in Ohio or Georgia or the like can skip ahead a bit; you've been doing this for years. While I might agree that OhioLink is a shining beacon to us all, we must all be allowed our baby steps. So, the task was given to the Automation and Networking Committee, a subcommittee of the University Librarians Advisory Committee. No offense to those of you in circulation services, but I think that approaching the problem systematically (i.e., technically), as opposed to procedurally and philosophically, helped hurtle us past some traditional barriers. We were charged with making it easier to borrow from other libraries, to tear down bureaucracies such as separate borrower cards, convoluted circulation policies, permission forms, and centralized processing.

After dismissing pie-in-the-sky ideas like a shared union database of patron records--a technical and a political headache--we settled on (in retrospect) a simple plan. Every library was already using a "View your own record" feature; why not allow access from other libraries to this feature? The public interface is easy to use, and it contained all the information needed to determine a user's eligibility to borrow. It was so simple, that it was brilliant. INNOPAC sites would not have to learn DRA's circulation module, and DRA sites would not have to learn Horizon. Instead we would aggregate our own public interfaces, built for ease of use in the first place.

Faster Than You Can Say, 'Reciprocal Borrowing Agreement'

In no time (well, some time), I had created a prototype for the interface--a map of North Carolina, on which users click on their schools to be connected to their public patron record interface. Another link, for staff who need assistance in determining a patron's standing, gives login instructions, contact information, and screen shots of sample records showing where to find the important information about a patron. The policy groundwork for the service had already been laid 12 years before in the first iteration of the UNC reciprocal borrowing agreement, but this new model of authentication broke new ground because it completely decentralized the authentication of users and gave the power of authorization to the lending library, rather than the home library.

The library directors liked the idea so much that we were given the go-ahead for a pilot service. We arranged a much-needed session with the various heads of the circulation departments, and with the technical solution in place, we ironed out the necessary policies. …

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