Automation Report No. 99-01
Date: July 28, 1999
Subject: Circulation Systems
From time to time, network libraries ask NLS for advice in
the evaluation of new circulation systems. NLS was recently
asked about the issues we expect our circulation systems
might face in the next five to ten years. The following is
our response. Please understand that much of this is
speculation. So much is changing so fast in the computer
environment, and the talking-book and braille environments
are so uncertain, it is difficult to predict anything except
change for network library circulation systems.
In spite of the uncertainty, we can predict a few specific
changes. We are already pursuing initiatives that will lead
to system changes. The descriptions that follow reference
READS, the NLS circulation system used in some network
libraries. Because NLS directs READS development, we are
using it as a test bed and proof-of-concept environment to
establish the interfaces between circulation and other
systems. By developing the READS interface at the same time
as the external interface, we can create appropriate
transaction formats which other network library circulation
systems can use to develop their own interface. The
descriptions of our plans for READS development imply system
functionality that other circulation systems may wish to
__Bibliographic Data.__ At present, we are distributing a
somewhat abbreviated record of bibliographic data for new
books at the time the books are announced in copy allotment.
Soon, as a result of a new cataloging system, we expect to
distribute the bibliographic data in a fuller, cataloged
format that conforms to AACR2 and contains more data, such
as LC subject headings. The data will not, however, contain
such information as the narrator or number of cassettes, as
that information is not available when the copy allotment
data is extracted. In a second development, we will begin
to distribute the complete Union Catalog form of the record
as an update to the "copy allotment" release. Finally, we
will distribute the retrospective compilation of complete
Union Catalog records to provide a consistent, standardized
catalog for all circulation systems.
The implications for the circulation systems are
that they will have to be altered to accept the
AACR2 format. Then they will have to be altered
to accept updates, retaining local data while
pdating national-level data. They will also have
to incorporate the retrospective data. In some
circulation systems, the change to the full USMARC
data will prompt the addition of new fields to the
local data records, displays, and printed outputs.
__Interlibrary loan.__We are currently beta testing
an interlibrary loan (ILL) form on the web that
will allow network libraries to send ILL requests
to the multistate centers and to other network
libraries. Each request will generate an e-mail
essage with the appropriate information plus an
attached file with a transaction that the
receiving library might input to its circulation
system to check out the book as an ILL and to
generate a mail card. The development of the mail
card generation from this transaction is already
underway in READS.
I have talked with some of the READS libraries
about an extension of the ILL transaction
exchange. When a library sends out a book for
ILL, READS might send an e-mail transaction to the
requesting library for its system to record that
the patron has the book. When the book is
returned, READS would send a transaction to the
requesting library to record that the patron has
had the book. There might also be a transaction
in READS to ask the requesting library to send an
overdue notice to the patron. These transactions
are just in the concept-development stages, and we
may decide on other methods for handling "has-
now," "has-had," and overdue notices.
__Z39.50 and OPACS.__In READS, we are looking toward
an implementation of Z39.50 functionality. This
will allow searching of the READS database by
other libraries, patrons, and external users.
This should also allow patrons to request books,
and it may be another way to implement ILL.
Because the reserve-request mode of a network
library operation differs from the public library
book order mode, and because the network library
ILL is usually mailed to a patron rather than to
the requesting library, our Z39.50 functionality
may need to be tailored to network library needs
and not simply work like a public library module.
__Digital Talking Books.__Digital talking books
(DTB) could generate significant changes in the
way network libraries provide service to patrons.
It may be that the new DTB and its machine will be
stored at libraries and circulated to individuals.
That would leave the circulation system operating
roughly the same as it does presently, perhaps
with a few data elements about the book, such as
the number of cassettes, being replaced. On the
other hand, it may be that the book will be stored
electronically at the network library and
transmitted electronically to the patron. Or the
book may be stored in a national level database
with some level of network library participation
in the transmission of the book to the patron.
And it is possible that the current mode of
lending machines, returning them for service, etc.
will change. It is too early in the digital
talking-book process to predict which path will be
taken. We can only be sure that it will require
some changes to the circulation systems changes
ranging from minor to radical.
__Other developments.__From time to time, there are
initiatives in the network that generate
opportunities for circulation system enhancements.
This is especially true as new systems or
electronic functions are created. I see this as I
look to development opportunities for READS. We
are planning to integrate the Print/Braille Labels
functionality into READS to allow a library to
maintain a single books database and print its
labels from that. It may be that we can integrate
the maintenance of the Web Braille passwords into
the circulation systems. The implementation of
patron transfers in CMLS combined with the ready
availability of data transfer over the Internet
may generate the need for new circulation system
functionality. There has been talk of the need
for a single-format, nationally unique, easily
remembered patron ID for patron access to online
services and that will move across network
libraries with the patron. NLS is about to test
the electronic transfer of certificate-of-mailing
data from the producer to the BPHICS contractor.
that opens up the possibility of transfer of the
data directly to the libraries. NLS will soon be
considering revisions to the XESS functionality
and we need to look into the circulation
I am sure that there are other areas of change that
might be considered for network library circulation systems.
and new ones will come up from time to time, some of them
with a degree of urgency. A network library circulation
system must have an ongoing development component where new
functions are continually being implemented to meet the
changing needs and environment.
There are four multiuser network library circulation
systems: CUL, DRA, KLAS, and READS. Each serves from 10 to
80 network libraries. In the past, there have been a dozen
or more "independent system" libraries__network libraries
that had systems either developed specifically for them or
integrated with their parent library system. From all
indications, all but two network libraries are on one of the
four multiuser systems or are pursuing a move to one of
them. The two committed "independents" have automation
staff dedicated to the development and maintenance of their
systems software. There is no network library using a
commercial system outside the four multiuser systems.
If you are considering a new circulation system, we
strongly urge you to direct your attention to one of the
multiuser network library systems. Network libraries do not
operate in the same way as public libraries, and their
circulation systems have fundamentally different functions.
Public libraries do not distribute and track audio playback
machines. They do not maintain magazine subscriptions.
They respond to individual requests for books and do not
have the complex reserve/request/subject-select modes of
circulation with the associated "has-had" record keeping.
Nor do they have the reporting requirements of BPHICS and
CMLS, nor the complexities of the NLS circulation reporting.
A number of network libraries have expended a significant
effort evaluating public library systems, and in each case
the public library system was found unsuitable for network
library use. One commercial system had committed to support
the network library within the public library system, only
to bow out when it received an outline of the functionality
For the network libraries that have evaluated
commercial systems, the two justifications for going outside
the standard four listed above have been cost and
compatibility with the parent library system. In all cases,
the justifications did not hold up on closer examination.
With respect to cost, even if the initial cost of the
commercial system is comparable (which it seldom is with
full network library functionality) the future enhancement
cost factor is not justifiable. A commercial system
distributes the costs of new development across all users of
the system. If it has one network library or even a few,
the development of new network library functionality for
something like the digital book or the network library ILL
is either ignored or is prohibitively expensive when
distributed among the few. Systems where network library
represents a significant user base must keep up with the
network library environment in order to maintain user
With respect to compatibility, technology is leading to
the preferable solution of separate circulation systems for
the network library and the parent library with a common
Z39.50 OPAC interface. It might be better to look to the
Z39.50 systems and how they might integrate with your parent
library system for a common OPAC. In the long run, Z39.50
also holds out the opportunity of common searches among
network libraries as well as between a network library and
its parent or its associated public library.
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