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Smart Libraries Q&A: Tips for purchasing technologies for libraries

Smart Libraries Newsletter [February 2019]


If money was not an object, what technology tools would you recommend for a library to purchase? This would not be for lending, but for patrons to view and use in-house.

Given the limited capacity of the budgets of most libraries, it is rare for cost not to be a consideration in the acquisition of new technology products or services. It is helpful, however, to know the full range of solutions apart from their cost. Pricing can also be treated as a separate aspect of a competitive procurement. It is often part of a formal review for the individuals assigned to evaluate products to not have access to pricing, so that they can focus on their ability to meet stated requirements and functionality. I am aware of some procurement scenarios where the proposals for those involved spanned a broad range of pricing, but all were considered affordable. Such a scenario enables a library to focus on selecting the best product, not the cheapest one. There are also many procurement processes, where the organization is required to select the least expensive qualified proposal. The weighting given to pricing will vary according to the procurement rules of an organization. Rarely is price not an object, but usually it is considered an important factor.

There are very few technology products that have been developed primarily to manage in-library use of materials. Some libraries have special collections or archives that do not circulate and may use products such as Aeon from Atlas Systems to track requests and processing workflows. It is much more common, however, for a library with a non-circulating collection to use one of many integrated library systems available, configured with the appropriate circulation rules. While one key area of concern for non-circulating libraries lies in tracking use, these libraries may also need automation support for acquisitions and cataloging of materials and for a public search interface, so that patrons can locate materials. These areas of collection management support are standard features of any of the major integrated library systems.

Tracking in-library use of materials is a standard routine for almost any library. Even if a library also lends materials, it is important to be able to capture statistical data, both for individual collection items and in aggregate for items consulted. Libraries generally ask patrons not to re-shelve items that they have consulted, but to rather return them to a designated area. This procedure not only prevents errors in shelving that might result from patrons not being familiar with the library's call numbers, but it also provides the opportunity to scan each item so that its use can be recorded.

Each scan increments the item's use or browse count and accumulates to the overall circulation activity reports. For circulating collections, these in-library use scans can also help identify errors, such as items shelved but not discharged. The standard features of an integrated library system can also address other scenarios, such as when materials are housed in closed stacks or remote storage. Patrons can make requests through the online catalog that generate paging requests for library personnel as well as the supporting routing and notification messages.

Returning to the question of what technology in support of in-library use might best serve the library regardless of cost, I can offer only general advice rather than recommend specific products. A long list of requirements must be considered, based on the complexity of the collection, the collection management tasks expected, the request and messaging features needed, and the types of statistical reports desired.

Other supporting technologies might also be helpful such as RFID tags, readers, and security gates. RFID-based technologies could provide some interesting capabilities in tracking materials within the library and preventing unauthorized removal. In some cases, innovative products such as smart shelves could provide interesting ways to facilitate pickup of requested materials or to provide visual indicators of the location of items.

While it would be unusual for a library to acquire technology products without concern for cost, there are affordable options. The key challenge lies in finding the best products that meet the needs of the library, that solve problems in innovative ways, and that represent a good value for the library's financial investment.

View Citation
Publication Year:2019
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 39 Number 02
Issue:February 2019
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:24094
Last Update:2023-01-25 10:49:14
Date Created:2019-03-06 13:49:48