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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Horizon Information Portal

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 05, 2005

We are in the 10-day time period of migration from our old computer system to our new computer system.Some things work, some are on a back-up system, and some things we are writing on paper for entry later.

It has been a dozen years since the entire library automation system was replaced, and much has improved in that time regarding the migration to a new system.We aren't alone.  Our library system is one of 68 library districts in Ohio that is in the process of migration, all part of the same computer center.When completed on June 9, the public won't notice much difference.  The Public Access Catalog in the library and the one you access from home doesn't change except in name.

The current PAC (Public Access Catalog) will become HIP (Horizon Information Portal). The reason is that in the future that information tool will access much more than the library's collection, it will be a "portal" to information everywhere. "Patrons" of the library will become "borrowers." "Holds" placed on items in the library catalog will become "requests." The staff will be working with the greatest change, as the computer software changes from a text-based, menu-driven system to a Windows-based system. This allows multiple tasks to be underway on the same computer at any time.

Library automation systems are huge.  Multiple library systems are even larger, and when the replacement of our 68-library system was advertised, there were only three companies that could handle the size. The process of migrating to the new system began in early November 2004; the planning began two years earlier. Every bit and byte of data in the current system must migrate to the new system, and be placed in the correct slot. Everything is checked and rechecked for possible problems, since some data can be as old as 1985, ancient in computer time.

Library computer systems are similar to warehouse systems in use in private business, except we want to continue tracking it even "after" the customer made the purchase because we want it back! Show an inventory of 5.2 million items, and follow 12 million items in and out of the multiple libraries to 600,000 customers, and you see the computer size!

An important part of the process was the training and retraining of 1,200 library staff across Ohio.  Six computer-training sites were established, and all staff attended at least one class taught by one of the 25 trainers.Staff them returned to their home libraries to practice on a test site, and do homework to be ready for June 9. We are as ready as we can be, looking forward to June 10, the day after "go live" day.

Later this year, the new system will begin accepting credit card payments for library overdues.  The system will be able to assemble family members into "family library card accounts." Digital photos will allow library staff to confirm that the library cardholder is the real owner of the card.

Only 30 years ago, I was trained to line up the rubber stamp on the book card so the patron could clearly see the date due.  Seems like centuries ago!