In recent years, there has been a general trend in automated systems of all kinds to site the hosts or servers close to the department or unit being served. This trend was established long ago in libraries; of the more than 12,500 multi-user automated library systems installed in North America, an estimated 98 percent are believed to have their central site in a library rather than in a computer center.
Though it is generally assumed that the central site for a multi-user automated library system will be located in a library, rather than in a computer center, the issue continues to come up. This is especially the case when a library is being automated for the first time, or is switching from a system which had used software on a mainframe in the parent organization's computer center to a client/server or other turnkey system.
For those library administrators who need some arguments in favor of having the central site be in the library, we offer the following:
Simple site requirements-It is not necessary to build a traditional computer room to accommodate an automated library system, therefore, the cost of placing the central site in a library is small; rarely over $10,000. Typically an office of 120-160 square feet can be used with only the addition of two or three 30 amp electrical circuits. No special HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) is needed unless it is not possible to maintain a relatively stable temperature-65-75 degrees. If additional temperature control is needed, a unit specifically designed for small areas costs less than $5,000. If the floor is carpeted, an anti-static spray should be applied; if tiled, the wax should be stripped off. Alternately, anti-static mats can be placed in front of the system components. Additional physical security, if necessary, might be as simple as security shutters on windows and special locks on the doors.
System design-Automated library systems are highly table-driven. The tables are set up so that there is no need to work with the operating system to modify them. An automated library system is implemented by making selections from the tables to tailor the application software to the needs of the library. Making these selections requires an understanding of librarianship, but not of data processing. While the vendor develops the original "profile" of the library and delivers the system with the table selections already made, the library's system manager will be able to make many of the subsequent changes with little difficulty. However, this requires access to a system console. In those cases in which the changes require data processing expertise, this can be provided by the vendor.
Vendor maintenance-when vendors of automated library systems are responsible for system maintenance, it means that they will do remote diagnostics and reconfiguration, make regular preventive maintenance calls, and respond to problems which cannot be handled remotely by dispatching field service personnel. The vendor Will then guarantee system performance in terms of uptime and response time. Attempting local maintenance, no matter how simple, may be used by the vendor to nullify those system performance guarantees.
Minimal operator skills-An automated library system rarely requires a full-time operator. The duties of the operator are limited to removing and installing tapes, setting up the printer(s) for specific jobs, calling the vendor in case of system failure, and maintaining a log of system failures and other problems. Typically clerical staff who work near the central site are trained to perform these tasks. A designated operator leaves his/her regular assignment only as needed in the central site. Most libraries (those with systems supporting five to 100 remote peripherals) allocate only two to three hours of staff time per day to system operation. It is only when a library colocates an automated library system, a CD-ROM server with towers, and an Internet server in the same room that keeping an operator in the room all of the time may be warranted. More time consuming is network administration when a library has multiple locations. It is this role which is frequently undertaken by a network administrator in the library' s parent organization.
Hours of operation-A library often has operating hours which do not match those of a computer center, especially on week-ends. There is an important end-of-day routine which needs to be carried out just before a library closes. This includes removing the logging tape which has recorded all transactions to disk for possible restoration of transactions in case of a disk failure, installing the back-up tape for backing up the database overnight, and preparing the system printer to produce reports or notices overnight. None of these tasks is demanding, but they must be performed without fail.
There will always be certain "special cases' where a computer center will be the central site for the library system. If this is the case, it would be prudent for the library to prepare a memorandum of understanding which would iterate some of the foregoing facts and set forth the following:
- All profile changes will be made by the vendor or the library's system manager.
- There shall be a console in the library so that the library's system manager can make profile changes.
- System operators will not attempt preventive or remedial maintenance, but will, in all cases, call the vendor.
- The end-of-day routine will be carried out just before the library's closing, not earlier.
- If there is to be a charge-back to the library, it shall reflect the actual hours of staff time required to operate the system, not a formula based on the size of the CPU or the number of remote peripherals on the system.