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Criteria for Selection and Evaluation of Library Automation Software Packages

1. Introduction: In any endeavour in which we make a substantial investment of money, energy, and time or other resources, we like to know what kind of return we are getting. The ability to evaluate the return on our investment gives us the basis on which to choose between alternatives. So an evaluation is basically a judgment of worth, it is a matter of comparison of actual result with external standard, in the light of existing institutional realities which may be relevant to evaluating the future trajectory of the programme or services and provide an objective basis for decision making. Like any evaluative process, library automation software evaluation is also quite a difficult task.

2. Types of Library Automation Software: The library automation software packages generally can be divided into the following categories-

a) In-house Developed Software Packages: In case of In-house developed software packages, it will consume much of the library budget, time from the library staff in the form of constant evaluation and modification to the library software packages to become stable and create problem in retrospective conversion if proper standards are not followed.

b) Private Software: Private or custom software is software developed for one user typically an organization or company. That user keeps it and uses it, and does not release it to the public either as source code or as binaries.

c) Commercial Software: Commercial software is software being developed by a business house which aims to make money from the use of the software. “Commercial” and “proprietary” are not the same thing. Most commercial software is proprietary, but the reverse may not be true. Using commercial software for libraries may involve a huge investment.

d) Proprietary Software: Proprietary software is computer software for which the software's publisher or another person retains intellectual property rights—usually copyright of the source code or sometimes patent rights. Proprietary software may be commercial software or provided free of cost to the users. Its use, redistribution or modification is prohibited, or requires you to ask for permission, or is restricted so much that you effectively can't do it freely.

e) Shareware: Shareware is software which comes with permission for people to redistribute copies, but says that anyone who continues to use a copy is required to pay a license fee. Shareware is not free software, or even semi-free, they are provided free only for the evaluation purpose. For most shareware, source code is not available; thus, you cannot modify the program at all.

f) Freeware: Freeware is proprietary software that is available for use at no monetary cost. In other words, freeware may be used without payment but may not be modified, re-distributed or reverse-engineered without the author's permission. Generally, in case of freeware, there is a problem with technical support.

g) Open Source Software: Open-source software is computer software whose source code is available under a licence that permits the users to study, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified form. In case of Open Source Software there is not any major disadvantage, if it has an online community for technical support.

3. Preliminary Steps for Evaluation: The software evaluation should start with consulting others who are using the software or going through the existing reviews. However, this should not be the sole criteria as now-a-days, internet is overwhelmed with paid reviews and people are getting paid to refer.

a) Consulting Others: No one wants chosen software to stop unexpectedly, slow down on large network, report error message. So, before making a choice, it will be better to consult others who had already used the software in the same way or consult people who have already gained experience on that software package.

b) Reading Existing Literature: It is better to go for the software after carefully examining the existing literature and documentation on the particular software packages or its reviews.

c) Reputation of the Referrer: The reputation of a person or the institution, his/her experience on that particular software is the next point to be considered. The relation between the evaluator or referrer to the software vendor or developer should also be traced at this point.

4. Manufacturers and Vendor: The types of documentation regarding pre-requisite, installation procedures, reputation of the vendor, and training on the software should be the next point to consider.

a) Documentation / Manual: Is the software accompanied by easy-to-follow supporting print material or manual. How good the manual is?

b) Training: Does the company or authority of the particular software provide training? Where and how the training is conducted, whether it is online or onsite?

c) Post Installation Support: What kind of post installation support from the vendor is available. Is there any provision of Annual Maintenance Contract (AMC).

d) Updating: Does the library automation system company from their own website help to install, upgrade (web based updates), and patches or simply help one with a particular function. How is the new modification / new version of the software to be obtained by the librarian?

e) Warranty: The software should come with performance and service warranty.

f) Reputation of the Manufacturer and Vendor: What is the reputation of the software vendor or manufacturer in the market or for how long they are working in the field is the next important thing to consider.

5. General Features of the Software Package: Does the software uses the existing standard related to the library, internet or books, what kind of facilities are available for import and export of the data?

a) Existing Library Standard: Software should support internationally known standards such as MARC 21, CCF, AACR2, LCSH, etc. If possible, the software chosen should also comply with UNICODE.

b) Standardize Data Format for Import and Export: The software should use standardized data format for importing and exporting of data from and to the software like data export/import in ISO 2709 (MARC/ CCF).

c) Integrated: The software should permit collaborative working and all necessary modules should be integrated in nature. The data entered into one module should have the provision to move to the next module.

d) Capacity: The restriction in total number of records / information that can be included into the software and the number of databases that the software can be handled effectively should also be considered.

e) Multiple Platforms: The software package chosen should run on various computer platforms i.e. server, mainframe to simple PCs. The software should also be able to run in multiple platforms such as windows XP, windows 2000, windows N.T., etc.

f) Flexibility: The software should make it easy to switch between the OPAC and writing station because there are times when one would want the public OPAC station to function as writing station and at other times may like the writing station to function as OPAC. The software package chosen should also be so flexible as to handle the records of variable sizes.

g) User Friendliness: The software should build on GUI based environment. It should provide expert advice and assistance in performing any task. It should empower the experienced user with short cut and inexperienced user with menu driven icon, dialogue box, etc. giving clickable access to the software. The software that is built on other platform should have the mnemonic based command.

h) Object Linking and Embedding (OLE): The Object Linking and Embedding feature helps to create objects in one application and then to embed it in a record of the software package running on the computer. If the software package chosen has this feature then it is an added advantage.

i) De-Bugging Facility: De-bugging facility and scope of proper error message while executing the software are to be ensured.

j) Customization and Expandability: The system should permit addition of new feature to meet the local need and use.

k) Speed: Speed of operation in different environment.

l) Effectiveness: Does the system meet the specification?

m) Reliability: Does the search in the software give consistent result?

6. Different Modules for Different Library Activities: The library system consisting of acquisition, cataloguing, circulation, serial control and such other sections. So, the library automation software should be able to perform the activities of all these sections.

a) Acquisition: Is there a way in the software to enable the user to recommend the titles to be procured by the library? Does the system carry out duplicate checking while recommending the titles by the library users?

b) Cataloguing: Does the system check the duplicate entry while entering a new record? How effective the system is for data entry? Does the software provide an easy way for editing records? Are insertion and deletion of records easy? Does it have the capacity to print accession register or catalogue card? What are the facilities provided for retrospective conversion, is it through standard export / import of records?

c) Circulation: Provision for issue, return, renewal, grace period, overdue alert, computation of fines, reservation of document, etc. should be there in the library automation software.

d) Serial Control: Provision of monitoring multiple issue of a serial, provision of grace period for receiving the serial, provision of renewal, overdue alert,  entering the abstract of a serial are some of the pre-requisite for the serial control module.

e) OPAC: Provision of reservation through OPAC, provision of searching OPAC from outside the library or web OPAC, provision of searching the OPAC and web simultaneously (Meta search) using a single word search.

f) Library Administration: The software should allow generation of different kinds of reports i.e. collection statistics, circulation statistics and also should be helpful to create one’s own specialized report to meet the specialized need. It should also have the facility to assign different right to the software for different categories of library staff.

7. New Technologies: The library software package should keep pace with global technology, web enhancement, online information, virtual services, provision of barcode facility, handling un-catalogued item, etc.

a) Network Capabilities: Provision of LAN connectivity, scope of integration of the software package with other school department, provision of accessing the software from computer outside the school walls via a web browser.

b) Web Enabling: Provision of web enabling through link to the Application Service Provider (ASP) or to the school web server, provision of internet connectivity, Email connectivity, etc. This is an advantage, where the cataloguer can work from remote location and OPAC can be accessed from both home and school, 24 hours a day.

c) Enhanced MARC Data: Many softwares allow to catalogue website, E-Books, AV resources in addition to the library resources. The websites are added by the library media specialist manually.

d) Open Standard Technologies: Is the database built on open standard technologies such as SQL, cold fusion, or XML that allows different types of software to talk to each other? That means, different modules of the software can easily and automatically share and update any information in common e.g. student’s name, address, etc.

8. Securities: What types of security features are available in the software?

a) Log on/off: The software should provide the students and staff members the user id and passwords to log on/off facilities on their own. The system must also allow the administrator to provide access restriction to certain records/ fields of importance.

b) Power out Feature: Is any power out feature included?  The system should be with a manual hand scanner available to check the material in and out in the event of power failure that can later on easily be connected to the computer system.

9. Cost of the Software Package: The cost of the software is an important criteria for most of the libraries.

a) Total Cost of the Software Package: If the system comes in different modules (available in only circulation module, circulation plus cataloguing module) then the total cost of the system. Whether the total cost of the software is affordable or justified.

b) Cost of Support: Cost of training, onsite support of the software packages, etc.

c) Cost of Upgrade: Cost of future upgrades or new version purchase.

d) Future Exist Cost: In near future, if one wants to switch over to another package then the cost involved in such cases should also be considered.

The technologies are shifting the horizon of library software packages every day, so, in choosing any software for library automation, if possible, we should look for the software package that has also the facility for federated search, and comply with the Open URL and Barcode and RFID technologies.

10. Conclusion: Today, the computers have entered each and every area of a library. The library automation is the application of modern technologies including the application of computer hardware and software, different storage medias, telecommunications, etc. which help the mechanization of any activity in the library. To implement the computer in the library, the selection of proper hardware and software forms an essential part. If proper software is selected, it will automatically generate or create OPAC which will replace the traditional card catalogue of the library. The feature-rich software will also have the provision of retrospective conversion. It will help the library to enter minimum of details about the document in their collection in the database of some other libraries and will help in getting the full bibliographic record of the document that can be embedded in the local database.
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