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The Business of: School library automation

Software frees librarians to focus on digital literacy
Second-graders at Walker Elementary School in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District use Follett’s Destiny Quest mobile app to locate digital resources in libraries and on Follett Shelf.
Second-graders at Walker Elementary School in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District use Follett’s Destiny Quest mobile app to locate digital resources in libraries and on Follett Shelf.

Taking away clerical work such as manual card cataloging and checking out books means librarians can spend more time working with students on research skills and digital literacy.

With today’s automation software, librarians can give book recommendations and users need only a single portal to search for digital and print resources. Advanced reporting tells librarians the most commonly read genres and the age of books in the library.

“Now people are talking about library automation in terms of resource management,” says Don Rokusek, the program director for Destiny Library Manager, a Follett School Solution. “Schools invest in these digital databases and need an easy way for students to access that content.”

When students search their library’s system for a particular topic, a list of relevant books, videos and subscription databases should come up, says Rokusek. Follett software also links materials to specific Common Core standards, allowing librarians to work with curriculum directors to find the best books for the classroom.

There is an emphasis on interactivity in library materials, says George Gatsis, senior vice president of technology platforms for Follett School Solutions. “Library automation software can link to e-publications and interactive texts. We’re seeing a shift away from flat PDFs.”

E-book integration is also key. “Many libraries are beginning to purchase e-books and it will be necessary to accommodate e-book records and to provide links to vendor portals for download,” says Julie Stephens, the project manager for Surpass library automation software.

More vendors are offering apps as smartphone and tablet use becomes ubiquitous in classrooms. Surpass recently introduced Library Trek, a mobile app that allows students to connect to their school library, check their account and reserve books from anywhere and at any time, says Stephens.

Selecting a vendor: Top tips

The idea behind library automation is making materials discoverable, says Sue Adelman, Follett’s director of market intelligence. So when schools talk to vendors, the conversation should be about how automation software can facilitate easy learning.

The right vendor should understand that librarians’ priority is to train students, teachers and staff about resource quality, reliability and searching skills, says Stephen Kunzler, regional sales manager for Alexandra, a library software company. “Automation software should ease the burden on librarians’ time, and not be overly complex or require extensive training.”

Open-source software

Tight on budget? Schools can use and modify free open-source library automation software such as Evergreen. Jason Etheridge, a support manager for Evergreen-developer Equinox Software Inc., explains the major benefits:

  • Districts can have in-house IT manage the software or pay developers to support, customize and host it.
  • In-house IT could manage the software because it works much like proprietary software.
  • Online users groups offer tips for using and improving software.
  • Open-source software is highly scalable, meaning it is used for many print and digital materials.
  • Minor updates can be made without downtime.

Administrators should also have a clear idea of the length of the automation process. “Typically it takes two months for the whole project, including transferring student and material information,” says Kunzler. “Training for the new systems will only take a few days.”

Kunzler advises learning what nearby districts use, but being aware that a poor automation system can sometimes gain a foothold in a certain area and spread to neighboring districts. “Make sure you evaluate a system based on your needs, not what others are doing,” he says.

Having a demo period is critical to making sure librarians feel comfortable using the software and that it can catalog a wide range of materials, says Kunzler.

Purchasing for long-term

When budgets are unstable from year to year, it makes sense to purchase a system with a one-time price tag, says Kunzler. “Administrators are usually aware that when you buy software, it’s only a matter of time before the newer, better versions come out. Look for a vendor that doesn’t charge for yearly upgrades.”

When McCracken County Public Schools in Kentucky upgraded to Follett’s Destiny Library Manager in 2010, the one-time purchase cost was about $36,000 for 12 schools with 6,000 students.

“This included the importing of all records, onsite training and development of each school’s website,” says Terri Grief, a McCracken school media specialist and president of the American Association of School Librarians.

Automating textbook management

Librarians need to diversify their roles to remain an integral part of the learning process, says Michael Cambria, the director of library services for Buffalo City Schools.

“In New York, librarians aren’t mandated at the K6 level, so their jobs are on the line every year,” he says.

And to increase job security, librarians can manage materials beyond the confines of their libraries. After automating the library, Buffalo librarians began using Alexandria’s Textbook Tracker to keep track of textbooks. “Right off the bat, we had 55 librarians who already knew the system and after an RFP process,” Cambria says.

Logging materials from 56 book storage rooms revealed a large amount of overlap and outdated texts. Cambria was able to sell back $37,000 worth of materials to publishers. By the time the logging process is done, Cambria estimates the district will get back $100,000. And, 82,000 pounds of old textbooks have been recycled, and classroom space has been freed.

“The more our libraries can do for our district, the more secure their jobs are,” he says. “It is important to keep librarians in our schools so we can serve our students optimally.”

The only ongoing cost is $750 a year for technical support, which Grief says is worth the expense. “Their techs can help me in a minute, which relieves a major burden for our in-house IT team,” he says.

Simplifying processes

Library automation software is more effective when it works with other district systems. “Our SIS and Destiny talk to each other, so when a student switches schools or joins the district, their information is automatically populated from the SIS to Destiny,” Grief says.

Automation software is supposed to ease the clerical burden on librarians, and prior to December 2012, that was not happening in Spring Branch ISD in Houston. “We were purchasing new technology for our library, and our old system was not interfacing at all,” says Jo Ann Conlon, librarian and director of innovative resource media systems.

After district librarians tested multiple platforms, Conlon selected Follett’s Destiny Library Manager. “The fact that librarians can automate overdue notices via email is huge,” says Conlon.

With the system’s social media feature, students can discuss the books they are reading and librarians can recommend others. This is a simple way to interact with the district’s 33,000 students, and also to teach them the appropriate language to use on social media.

Reporting is also made easy—the system can generate reports on what genres are most popular by grade level or by teacher. Conlon can have the reports automatically emailed to her. “I can easily see which teachers are not bringing their students to the library enough, and then visit these teachers and encourage them to get their students in the library and reading.”

The reports may also inspire administrators. “Our principals look and can see how much students are reading,” says Conlon. “We’ve had principals start literacy campaigns because of what they saw in these reports.”

Kylie Lacey is associate editor.

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