Steps to automate your library

Vasu M Deshpande, Easylib Software Pvt Ltd, Co-Founder and CEO,

vasumd@easylibsoft.com+91-97422-04624

November 2019

Summary – Automation is having computer or a machine do a routine activity. At the simplistic level, it involves making your catalogue available on your website. And at the higher end level, the automation includes usage of artificial intelligence machine learning which even help predict what user wants and makes it available to him in seconds, even the ones not available in the library. Most library automation is in between. This article explains basic processes involved in automation. 

1.    Understand the benefits 

First step in automation is to be well read about the benefits of automation. (Read another paper of mine or other sources). You should be fully convinced of the benefits of automation and the level to which you wish to automate. You should also understand that automation is not free. Even automation using the open source software is not free. Everything has cost involved. Only the amount of cost varies.

2.    Find a sponsor or a project champion

However passionate you may be about library automation, nothing moves without sponsorship and financial support from your organization. To get this going, you should prepare a simple one or two page document or a presentation about library automation. It should outline the below things. 

  • Why library automation
  • List of all benefits you get
  • Expected spend
  • Timeline of work
  • Support you require 

3.    Prepare a project plan 

Once you have the sponsor give a go ahead, you should then jump into preparing a project plan. Do not directly jump into the process of automation thinking that vendor will do everything. That is not correct. There are various processed involved and you want to be well prepared for each. Do not rely on your memory or verbal understandings. Instead, document everything. Here are a few of the important step. 

  1. Understand the benefits
  2. Get a sponsor and management approval
  3. Draft project plan preparation
  4. Collating your existing data
  5. Software identification
  6. Close Commercials and Chose Vendor
  7. Server Readiness and Software Deployment
  8. Import your data
  9. Trainings
  10. Launch
  11. Vendors payments  
  12. Post launch support

4.    Collate your existing data  

Before you begin the work of automation, make sure to collate and organize your data. Well organized data can save you on deployment costs. The primary list of documents you would require are

  • Your book accession register
  • Your non book accession register
  • Your periodicals information register
  • Your eBook repository register
  • Your student data
  • Other information you want to make available on website 

5.    Software Identification 

Identification of software is one of the most important things of your library automation. Here are some things you want to remember to choose the software you require. 

  1. Software functionality – Does the software you think of getting meet all your requirements? 
  2. Level of innovation – How well the company is releasing the upgrades and innovating? 
  3. Level of support – How good the support is available for the software?  
  4. Software Open ness – Does the software have APIs built in to interface with other applications?
  5. How easy to upgrade? – Is the data locked? Is it exportable? 

In regards to Where as open source is projected as free, it is usually not free as it involves greater amount of time and effort to deploy and configure the software. Often the price of deployment of open source software is more than that of commercial software. So, you need to really look at the complete picture and then make a call. In addition, open source does not have one owner. As a result, you end up seeing multiple varieties of open source flavors. When you want to upgrade in future, you need do all the flavored changes once again to the new version of the software, which will cost you even more. 

On the other hand, the proprietary providers are proud as well as sensitive to their brand name. They try to keep the customizations backward compatible. Considering the choices and competition in the market, often the cost of proprietary product license plus cost of deployment is less than cost of deployment and customization of the open source software. 

Ultimately it is your call. 

6.    Close Commercials and Chose Vendor

For vendor selection, here are some things you want to do your homework on. 

  • How well you know the vendor? Have you done any referral checks? 
  • How are the vendors after sales customer support? What is the duration of vendors free support and then paid support? 
  • What is the commitment of the vendor to the business of library automation? Is the vendor committed to this business or is he a fly by operator?
  • Is the vendor a company or a part time professional? If the vendor is a company and he does it for himself and employees, the commitment is higher.
  • Are the financial aspects clear? i.e. pay only by Cheque, clear negotiations etc. 

In regards commercial negotiation, here are some best practices. 

  • Know what you are buying. Often the spend depends on what you buy rather than how much you negotiate. 
  • Call vendor for negotiation only when you are sure of buying and are determined to buy a product. Once you begin the negotiation process, try to bring it to a closure with one of the vendors. 
  • Do not bargain to bone level where in vendors agrees for a price under compulsion and then has a hard time meeting the deliverables. 
  • Be straightforward on your expectations. Once you agree on something, stick to it. Do not ask to add additional freebies. 
  • Always document the understandings. Do not leave it to verbal agreements. 
  • Place order only based on your budget availability. 

7.    Server Readiness and Software Deployment

The next most important item is server readiness and deployment. You have two choices, cloud hosting and local hosting. 

Seq.ActivityCloud HostingLocal Hosting
1Investment on Server Done by vendorBetween Rs.50,000 and Rs.5,00,000 based on size
2Server MaintenanceDone by vendorYour system admin would need to maintain this
3Software InstallationDone by vendor in off hoursDone in working hours at your premises
4Data safetyAssured by vendorYou are responsible for your data
5Internet RequirementAlways requiredWorks within LAN if there is no internet
6Software cost first yearUsually less and same as annual charges along with charges for initial deploymentUsually high. 
6Running cost /AMC for the softwareFlat charges as agreed with the vendorFlat charges as agreed with the vendor and your time on server maintenance  

Usually entire deployment is done by the vendor in both the cases. 

8.    Data Import and Entry

Next step is the data import part. Here are a few methods. 

  1. Data entry from accession register – You hire a few staff and carry out the data entry.  Alternatively you can outsource it to a vendor. 
  2. Import data from Microsoft excel – You give the data to vendor and they would import your data. Some of the advanced Library automation software like Easylib also have data mapping and import features. 
  3. Data import from MARC – If you already have the data in MARC, you can have it imported. 

Here a word of caution is that you should review the data once imported. Do not expect that vendor will do everything 100% as there could be data issues, incorrect formats etc. You must allocate your time and effort to ensure correct data goes into the system. No matter who does the data entry, ultimately the data is owned by you. 

9.    Trainings

This is one of the most overlooked items that affects library automation. Depending on how easy a software usage is, each software takes anywhere between a few weeks to a few months or years to learn the software.

Below are some methods for training 

  1. Work out number of training days with vendor
  2. See training videos created by the vendor
  3. Conduct trainings within your team
  4. Trial and error and self learning
  5. Have peer professionals visit and give training

10.Launch

Deployment of software does not end with automating and simply start using it. Here are a few more things you need to do to ensure automation is successful. 

Below are some methods for training 

  1. Configure your OPAC properly
  2. Connect your Web OPAC to your college website
  3. Make a few presentations to your staff
  4. Conduct a few student orientation sessions
  5. Build a view launch videos
  6. Trial and error and self learning
  7. Have peer professionals visit and give training

11.Vendor Payments

You need to consider your vendors as your partners and not just one time service providers. The better relationship you have with your vendor, the better help you get when you need. Not everything can be bought by money. Treat your service providers with respect and they will go out of the way to help you. 

12.Post Launch Support

Your library automation begins with deployment of software and with all the above activities. It does not end there. You need to ensure that you have adequate support available when you need.

Trying to do all by you is like trying to build a car in your mechanical engineering department of the college and use it to ferry a VIP on a need basis. Academic projects, do it yourself projects are all-good in the academic and controlled atmosphere. However, to make them withstand the day to day load, they need to be hardened. This takes time and effort. So, get annual maintenance contract and get peace of mind. 

About the author 

Vasudevrao M Deshpande (Vasu) is an entrepreneur, author, software engineer, program manager and a Swachch Bharat advocate. He founded Easylib Software Pvt Ltd and worked with Infosys, Apple, General Electric, IBM, ABN Amro Bank in various capacities. He is a Gold Medal in Engineering; MBA from University of Massachusetts USA, PMI certified Program Management Professional and APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional.  He is an avid reader and speaker at many renowned events. 

About Easylib Software Pvt Ltd

Easylib Software Pvt Ltd helps libraries automate through operations through Easylib Software. As of 2020, the software now runs at over 600 institutions worldwide. More details about the product may be obtained at www.easylibsoft.com or by calling Easylib Sales hotline 98443-49630 or by writing to info@easylibsoft.com

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