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MIT libaries to get new catalog system

By Michelle Gueritey

MIT is obtaining a new system which will make catalog use in libraries easier. A preliminary analysis report was recently drawn up, formally stating the libraries' decision to replace

the current Barton public catalog system.

An ad hoc committee was formed to review this report and determine some of the technical requirements that must be met by the new system. The committee is composed of staff from the MIT Libraries, Information Services, and Project Athena.

"This committee is needed to insure that our projects fit within the larger campus network designs for the future," according to T. Gregory Anderson, associate director of systems and planning for the MIT Libraries.

The libraries have not yet contracted with a particular vendor. Last December and January, the libraries set up three test CD-ROM based catalogs. Members of the MIT community were invited to test the systems and give evaluations. The libraries used the results of these trials to narrow down the products under consideration.

The costs for the first two years of the new catalog have been estimated at $183,000. In the third year, less expensive maintenance costs will be the primary expense.

The libraries have already allocated a segment of their budget for the new system. "We are fairly well poised to fund the project," Anderson said.

However, he was reluctant to set a time frame for the new system until "we get a better sense of the amount of technical questions that we have, and the amount of resources we need to address them," he said.

Circulation and catalog

resources will be separate

Currently, all the libraries use Barton, which was installed in 1984, to store most of the card catalogs and keep records on fines and circulation. In the new system, the public card catalogs will operate independently from the record-keeping part of the system. Information will be accessible from various workstations and desktop computers, as well as Project Athena.

"The biggest plus of the new system will be that if Barton goes down, patrons will still be able to access catalog information," said Eileen G. Dorschner, aeronautics and astronautics librarian. In some of the libraries, when Barton goes down, patrons cannot locate books the library has received since 1974.

The desire to separate the public catalog is due, in part, to stresses that are beginning to show on Barton, such as a restriction on the maximum number of terminals that can be connected to the system and the slow response time of the Barton terminals late in the afternoon. "This new catalog should ease the slow response time," Dorschner said.

In addition, "Patron needs are somewhat different from the library staff needs," Anderson commented, and the new catalog will have "higher functionality, more intuitive searching mechanisms and displays, and support the ability for people to search for information in the catalog and manipulate it at the workstation level."

A patron should be able to search for any word in the entire catalog records, Anderson said. He hopes the new catalog will allow patrons to restrict the results of their search by language or date. For example, a person should be able to ask for materials which contain certain key terms that are only in English and were published since 1989.

As a result of separating the catalog from the rest of the library system, what is known as the circulation-catalog linkage will not exist in its present form.

"The linkage is a key element in the design and decision process concerning the new catalog," according to Anderson. It is important to know whether or not a given book is in the library, he said. With Barton, since the circulation and catalog systems are connected, the status of a book is immediately known.

But because the new system will not directly connect circulation with the library catalog, the catalog will initially be updated once a day. Eventually, the libraries hope to move toward an "interactive, live circulation status," and update the system continuously, Anderson said.

Anderson is excited about the new system because, in his opinion, "this system is better from the user's standpoint for the functionality features and for the potential for better networking."

Eventually, the libraries want to replace the internal Barton system as well. For now, however, "The MIT libraries really have a grand opportunity to be a leader in terms of information technology and delivery of information through a very exciting computing environment here," Anderson stated.

Dorschner also expressed excitement over the new system. "Most of the librarians are looking forward to the new system because it will free up space for processing more materials and will help us provide better service."