AUSTIN, Texas, June 26, 1998 -- Three years into a technology initiative to bring equal library services to every public school student in Texas, nearly half of the state's 6,643 campuses are online to a "virtual" library, and state officials expect more than 80 percent to be signed up by 1999.
The web-based service, which is provided by Auto-Graphics Inc., Pomona, Calif., provides a consolidated catalog of holdings by all participating libraries and manages the interlibrary loan (ILL) process as students acquire books from anywhere in the state if they are not available locally. The Instructional Technology Division of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) administers the initiative, called the Texas Library Connection (TLC).
The mission of TLC is to ensure that all citizens of its school communities are provided relevant information resources regardless of a district's size, geographic location or financial resources.
School districts in Texas range in size from more than 200,000 students to fewer than 100.
More than 99 percent of school districts that are not currently active in the TLC say they are just waiting until they can overcome one or more obstacles to participation, according to Gloria McClanahan, director of library services at TEA. Some districts are not yet connected to the Internet or do not have a sufficient number of student workstations available. A few do not even have a librarian.
"Unfortunately, the districts that most need the shared resources are among those that lack the prerequisites to making it work," McClanahan said. "Other state and federal grant opportunities exist in Texas to assist with these problems, but with 4 million students in 1,048 districts, even the task of communicating the opportunities to educators takes time."
With a $1.3 million authorization from the 73rd Texas State Legislature, TLC was launched in June 1995 with the awarding of a contract to Auto-Graphics to develop the library network using the company's Impact/ONLINETM product family. Auto-Graphics was selected from a group of seven bidders after demonstrating the only functioning web-based product at that time and the ability to co-exist with more than 30 different library automation systems already installed throughout Texas.
The Auto-Graphics solution further won the favor of various review boards with its ability to "scope" the database, McClanahan recalled. Scoping is a way to avoid deluging a student with a huge list of all potentially relevant titles in the thousands of libraries, by allowing each library to define areas to which they want searches confined. "Given the size of Texas, an unconstrained search would quickly frustrate both teacher and student," she said, "and instead of generating enthusiastic researchers, we would turn people off from what should be a useful tool."
Since the 1995 launch, TLC has used Impact/ONLINE to merge nearly 15 million items into over two million unique records that today comprise the TLC database. When duplicate titles result from merging library catalogs, one unique record is created and the location of all titles in the network is attached. Database records include books, audio tapes, video tapes, computer software, filmstrips and other audio/visual materials.
TLC participating libraries provide access to the merged catalog from homes and classrooms as well as workstations in the library. Librarians can make their individual collection development more cost effective by using the web to see what other libraries are buying. They also use the TLC database to download records into their local automation systems, as well as a secondary backup system.
"A campus library in Laredo recently lost its entire database and then discovered its backup was corrupted," McClanahan said. "Auto-Graphics was able to extract and download that one campus's collection from the database and get the library running again within one day."
Participation in other state and national resource sharing initiatives is also available to TLC members, including TexShare, an academic library consortium, and the Texas State Electronic Library, a public library consortium.
"The interface is so easy to use that we have kindergarten students searching for materials to support class projects," McClanahan said. "Equally important to learning from information is learning the process of acquiring information from sources far beyond their own library walls."
Founded in 1950, Auto-Graphics Inc. (OTC:AUGR) provides information publishing and database resource sharing systems to the publishing and library communities.