In the March 1985 issue (LSN Vol. V, No. 3) we discussed the need for a systems coordinator to manage the complex set of operational and policy decisions involved in installing and implementing a multi-function automated library system. One area of automated system policy that is often overlooked in the pressures of implementation is that of a library's attitude towards requests for information on its system and the decision making processes that led to its selection. While this may not be an issue that requires a formal written policy statement, it certainly demands discussion by library staff and management. A library should try to reach a consensus on its position and set up procedures for handling the range of information requests it will receive.
Such requests will come in a variety of forms. Some vendors routinely track announcements of the award of library automation contracts and follow-up with questionnaires designed to identify the critical factors in a particular award. Other vendors undertake market research sporadically, using written or telephone communications to determine libraries' stated needs and preferences. These approaches are valid in that they provide the vendors with information on libraries' requirements and serve as a source of input for product development schedules. Requests for information will also come from librarians, some seeking guidance on the general process of selecting and implementing an automated system, others concerned to assess the performance of the specific system or vendor that the library has chosen. There may also be requests for tours or demonstrations for individuals or groups. Editors of journals and newsletters may approach the library or a member of the staff for an interview or article on the experience of automating. And, in the general commerce of day-to-day library business, friends, acquaintances, and interested parties will inquire into the performance of a specific function or ask “How is it going?”.
None of these inquiries is cause for concern, but the potential for different members of a library's staff to have different views on appropriate responses to these questions suggests that difficulties may be avoided by developing a general consensus on policy and procedures. On a very simple level, a staff member who has been intimately involved in the selection of the automated system will have the knowledge to judge that a system entailing a particular level of expenditure represents a reasonable choice in the current market. To a staff member whose responsibilities include coaxing another year of service out of an ailing bookmobile, or explaining to an irate graduate student why the library cannot spend $10,000 on a collection that will only be used once, that same automated system expenditure may appear to be grossly irresponsible. The views that these two staff members pass onto others may be diametrically opposed and have significantly different impacts on even the most casual inquirer.
By and large, U.S. libraries are very generous in their willingness to share information on automation with other libraries. Many freely devote hours to tours and informal discussions of the automation process. This openness has made a valuable contribution to the profession's understanding of automation, the ability of libraries to make informed selection and implementation decisions, and the development of systems which are responsive to the special needs of libraries.
However, in certain situations there will be constraints and it is the responsibility of library managers to ensure that all staff are forewarned of these. The constraints may be in the contract the library has signed with its vendor, or in the regulations or policies of the parent institution. If a library has the misfortune to experience difficulties with its system or vendor the situation becomes more volatile and existing policies and procedures may need to be reassessed. Sometimes the very successof an automation project can cause problems in that an institution may be inundated with requests for information and tours. Procedures for handling this might include preparation and maintenance of an up-to-date description of the system for distribution to inquirers, and the scheduling of routine times for tours—the afternoon of the first Monday of the month, for example. A library might even choose to allow individual or nonscheduled tours but levy a charge for the staff time expended on such visits.