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Library Automation

1. Introduction: Library is a growing organism that requires constant positive changes to meet the need of its user. The invention of computer has brought in a rapid change in the society. Therefore, automation has become the need of the hour. Library automation not only improves the image of the library staff but also provides additional services to the users with the existing staff. The impact of automation on the library is quite obvious; it creates new environment where each function redefines the traditional organizational structure and transforms it into new institutional entries.

2. Definition: Automation is defined as a technique, a process, or a system which operates automatically. According to the Encyclopaedia of Library and Information Science, “Automation is the technology concerned with a design and development of the process and systems that minimize the necessity of human intervention in their operation.”

Swihart Stanley S and Hefley Beryl F have defined the term ‘library automation’ as “the processing of certain routine clerical function in the library with the assistance of computer or other mechanized or semi automatic equipment”. It may also be defined as a process of mechanization of all the housekeeping operation of a library which is repetitive in nature. The housekeeping operation includes acquisition, cataloguing, circulation, serial control, references and administration work.
3. History of Library Automation: The first computer network was perhaps the Online Computer Library Centre (OCLC). Although the microcomputer made its first appearance in 1971 it was not before 1981 that they made an impact on libraries. The reason was limited storage capacity of the computer and scarcity of good software for library applications.  The development of OPAC in 1980s is a remarkable addition to the field of library automation.

Among all the universities in India, Hyderabad University Library was the first to start its automation project by using Libsys software. It gets the software free of cost from the Lybsys Corporation (Now Libsys Ltd) as parts of its development programme. In NE India, all the universities started their automation project. The work done by National Law University Assam, Tezpur University and NEHU University is quite commendable in this regard.

4. Prerequisite for Library Automation: To go with the library automation, the willingness of the librarian and library committee is a must. The library should also have proper planning and adequate finance. The availability of electricity / solar power, hardware (server, UPS, scanner, printer, storage media, etc.), software (operating system, system software, application software, library automation software, etc.), and also trained manpower together form the prerequisite for the library automation.

5. Need and Purpose of Library Automation: Since the computer can be used in performing the various activities of the library, library automation can serve as a remedy to all the existing ills of libraries. We can briefly note the following advantages of library automation.

a) Self Survival in the New Environment: The user of any library nowadays expects to use their computer literacy in the library environment. If the library does not go for automation it is felt that it will not be able to cope with this new generation of users. The application of computer in libraries thus hopes to make a positive change towards this end.

b) Speeding up the Operation: The use of computer almost invariably speeds up the flow of work within the system. New books, reports and other materials can therefore be released sooner to the waiting reader. It will help the inputting of data only for a single time as the integrated nature of software helps for its subsequent use for other purposes, and reduces duplication of the efforts or work. The searching of information can also be performed speedily, which will save time of the library staff and the user.

c) Accuracy and Reliability: Automation significantly increases the accuracy of files and records. Processing rules may be standardized and given to the computer in the form of a program which can be used to verify the rules for the new data that need to be feed into the computer system. If inputs are edited by a computer, errors can be detected and deleted before the information is entered into the files and processed. Computers are also more reliable in the sense of breakdown, vacation, etc. and can work longer than human beings.

d) Budget Saving: Computer equipment is cheaper. Again, in case of an automated library, the unit operating cost is less than that of a non automated library. The larger the number of transactions, the lower the unit cost of automated libraries. Automation will reduce the human action and save physical space and cost on the stationary items.

e) Simultaneous and Decentralization Access: In an automated environment multiple users can access the same information sources or database. A user, without consulting the library staff, can also check whether a book is out on loan or in reserve.

f) Storage, Retrieval and Protection of Information: Libraries are a growing organization. So without the application of computer it may be very difficult to handle the space problem of a library. Automation helps in storing much information in reduced space with extensive provision of different access points. The retrieved information will be relevant, fast and specific. It will make the ease and economy of producing and distributing multiple copies of cataloguing files and, thus, will provide greater protection against the loss of the catalogue by fire, earthquake and other natural disasters.

g) Exception Reporting and New Services: Automated system automatically provides overdue notice, follow up notice, location of order, editing of cataloguing activity, etc. The use of computer will also help us to provide new services such as CAS / SDI, special purpose catalogue, new holding announcement service, etc.

h) Automatic Statistics Generation: The use of computer in libraries helps us to generate different kinds of statistics and reports within a minute itself. The statistics are automatically prepared by the computers and are more accurate and reliable than the manually generated one. It will improve the control over the whole system.

i) OPAC: The library catalogue forms the base of most of the library activities such as circulation, reference service, literature search, inter-library loan, etc. The introduction of library automation brings OPAC facility to the library. The library staff also gets relief from the cumbersome jobs of writing and preparing card catalogues and their subsequent filling.

j) Stock Taking: Stock taking is an inspection to check what is in the stock in relation to what it should be. In this process the current file is compared with the inventory file (the old list of documents possessed by the library) and the unmatched records in the inventory files are listed out. This list constitutes the untraceable or lost document. Automation helps in stock taking, which is otherwise a cumbersome business.

k) Resource Sharing:  Resource sharing among libraries demands library automation as the minimum requirement. The resources can only be shared easily with others when they are in soft form i.e. computer readable form.

6. Areas of Computer Application in Library: A modern library cannot be imagined without the application of computers. In the library and information centres, computers can be used for performing efficiently all sorts of jobs from the procurement of the reading materials to their organization and use. So, it can serve as a remedy for all the existing problems of libraries and information centres. But, till now computers have been used successfully in the following areas of library activities.

A) Library House Keeping Operation: In case of library housekeeping operation, the computer is used for acquisition of books and other reading materials, their classification and cataloguing in the form of export and import from other existing databases, circulation and serial control.

a) Acquisition: The selection of materials can be made through the computer. Any library which is a part of online computerized library system has access to catalogue entries and bibliographic data of all the libraries in the system. These databases can be used as a selection tools to purchase new documents for the particular library in question. Other offline databases can also be used as selection tools for non current documents and sometimes out of print books. For other documents, conventional book selection methods may be used. The MARC bibliographic record service has opened up a new vista in both cataloguing and bibliographic database that can be used as a book selection tool.

The requisition of the book by the library users can be send by using computer. Again, the ordering and acquisition are the routine jobs in the library and for a single time ordering it requires repetitive operation by different sections. These repetitive operations and the requisite checking can very well be done by the application of the computer system. Both offline and online acquisition can be performed by the use of computers.

b) Classification:  Though a proper computer based library classification system is not available, the library staff can obtain the class number of a document by searching for the title and ISBN in the large databases like OCLC Classify - an Experimental Classification Service ( and so on. The library staff can even think of exporting the data regarding a document in the form of MARC record and upload into his/her own system in which besides having the class number, other fields like title, publisher, author also will be there.

c) Cataloguing: The computerized cataloguing system operates with high speed for performing routine and repetitive jobs. Besides, in the cataloguing unit, computer can also be used in various other ways such as producing book plates, book pockets, book cards, spine labels, etc. It can also produce a variety of records, card catalogues in the book form, printed catalogue, etc. as byproducts.

The MARC project was started in November, 1965 by the Library of Congress, USA. The latest development in the system includes the CoMARC (Co-Operative Machine Readable Cataloguing). Computer Output Microfilm (COM) was developed in the USA by Stromberg Carlson Company. The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), previously known as the Ohio College Library Centre was started in August 1970. All these have successfully used computers for cataloguing of documents.

d) Serial Control: Serials are continuing publication having reasonably permanent titles and appearing usually at regular intervals. Their contents usually vary from issue to issue. An article as a single bibliographic unit may be published in more than one issue and even in more than one volume. Obviously, the users may be interested in an issue of a serial as a bibliographic unit, or an article spread over a number of issues as a bibliographic unit. So, serial control comprises complex operations of library activities because of the very nature and characteristics of Serial as library material. Again, the conflict between the physical unit and the bibliographic unit makes Serial control a complex task.

In case of Serial, the current issues, the retrospective or immediate back issues and bound volumes under every year of publication is an ongoing process. In this case, the library should encounter the search problem because of the conflict between the title and the corporate body, the old titles and the changed titles, nature of irregularity in publication (more than one issue in a single publication and the like). These situations pose the problem of listing, acquisition, accessioning, cataloguing and creation of records in the desired format. But the use of computer in serial control solves a lot of these problems.

e) Circulation: The circulation activities are the life-stream of the library services.  The library documents are for use and are intended for the users. At various points, documents are to be trapped for the users who have recorded their priority in using such documents. The circulation is a flow of document, but the flow should be controlled by library operations so as to serve the users in the best possible way with the available materials in the library. The use of computer in library pushing the library to a situation in which the user can issue and return the book themselves without waiting for the library staff.

B) Library Administrations: The computer can be used to prepare budget, generate different kinds of statistics and so on. In case of library administration, the library automation helps in
a) Providing Access Right to Staff Members
b) Providing Access Right to Library Users
c) Exception Reporting
d) Generation of Library Statistics / Report

C) Information Retrieval: Today, Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) or sometimes Web OPAC facility provided by the library and information centres helps in easy retrieval of information. Computers are also used for searching Library Database like International Nuclear Information System.

D) Building Digital / Virtual Libraries Collection: Computers can also be used to build digital or virtual collection or for institutional repository of the library.

E) Resource Sharing: In order to facilitate the provision of material request on inter library loan basis, the use of computers and other latest telecommunication devices is being put to use in almost all the countries of the world. The Online Union catalogue is also a product of computer application in library.

F) Library Network: Information and Library Network (INFLIBNET) centre, Developing Library Network (DELNET) are the example of taking library automation as its first step or base structure.

G) Information System: World Science Information System (UNISIST), Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS), illustrate the advanced stage of library automation.

H) User Services: The library automation also helps to provide Current Awareness Service (CAS), Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) Services, Indexing and Abstracting Service, Web Based Translation Services, Computer Based Indexing and Abstracting Services, and so on.

7. Conclusion: In the library environment computer can be used in almost all its sub-field. In the developed countries computer already invading in almost all the areas of the library. Even there are some libraries which are more dependent on computer than the human being. The human being only used to perform the functions that need intelligence, others are being done by the computer. In terms of automation, the university libraries of India are lagging behind their counterparts in the developed countries. However, the libraries and the librarians are slowly adjusting with the changes by starting their automation phase. Many libraries have also started their computerized circulation desk and resource sharing.
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