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Ask Slashdot: Tech For Small Library Automation? 188

Kozz writes "I've recently been tapped as 'the tech guy' at my church where a group familiar with library automation wants to get digital with the relatively small catalog. Right now all the materials are simply on shelves, and people take an item down, fill out the paper card and drop it into a box, and we hope that people correctly calculate their own due dates and return the materials. We had a card catalog, but it went largely unused. We're looking for a complete solution for both administration and self-checkout; label printing, checkout receipts, and so on. Have any Slashdot readers found yourself in this position, and do you have recommendations based on your experiences?"
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Ask Slashdot: Tech For Small Library Automation?

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  • keep it simple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bhenson ( 1231744 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @06:29AM (#38594176) Homepage Journal
    Keep it simple use access with a form
    • Barring pre-done web apps, or assuming there's gonna be *something* that this library wants done differently, this is probably actually the best way to go about it. Someone in the congregation should know how to whip up an Access app in an afternoon that will do everything you want.
    • Re:keep it simple (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 05, 2012 @08:14AM (#38594536)

      Don't listen to the "write your own" crowd.
      ILS software has been done to death, and there is alot more to it than you might think even for a small collection, just ask any library sciences grad.
      We have used koha several times and very much like it. There are other solutions. Web based is definately a bonus.
      Given the isbn may of these systems will fill out the book info for you.

      • This.

        Also, Access is a terrible solution - it scales so poorly that it will become felt the minute you need TWO (2, one plus one) people to have simultaneous access to the records. It doesn't even support per-entry locks. Terrible.

        - A Library Sciences Grad

        • Completely agree. Only use Access if it is the ONLY solution available to you – including not having access to paper and pencil. I've seen nothing but problems from systems that started out as just small solutions. They tend to grow over time and Access is a real pain in the back-side.

        • The one word comment "This" always reminds me of a "me too!" posting from AOL in the 90s.

          Also, we're tlking about a small church library, not some major website with thousands of queries a second, so Access is perfectly adequate.
          • Weird - while I was briefly on AOL in the 90s, I always associate it with current LJ. That's probably where I picked it up.

            And I certainly wasn't saying that Access wasn't adequate - it has enough functionality, sure. It's just significantly worse than free tools available, including some with similar learning curve. It also requires a lot of extra work to get to the functionality mentioned in the OP.

      • A proper library automation system can save considerable time on an ongoing basis and allow you to actually do what you describe with minimal overall effort.

        Such a system would have NISO Z39.50 protocol client support for downloading and working with machine readable cataloguing, MARC, records well catalogued at another library for copy cataloguing to populate the records of an automated library system. Downloading records over Z39.50 directly from most libraries with Z39.50 servers, including the Library

    • by durrr ( 1316311 )
      Check in by having a high-res with flash picture of your face taken. Then ensure that every corner is covered by cameras to allow seamless tracking of individuals. Each shelf also ought to have enough camera coverage to identify books either by position or appearance.
      That way you could even track books that are removed and replaced in the wrong position.

      All you need is a lesser supercomputer and someone selling decent framerate high-res IP cams in bulk.
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      If you have Access which is not super cheap.

      If you want to roll your own then you have a LOT of options.
      The first question is what do you know?
      Single user or network?
      If you are going the network route and want to do client server I can think of a few ways to go.
      Backed MySQL or PostgreSQL I am a fan of PostgreSQL myself. For a small library a Pentium 3 machine that no one wants running say Ubuntu Server edition will work fine as a server. The data base will be tiny so so you could use a few drives that no o

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @06:37AM (#38594198)

    I don't know how small your library is but if it's large enough to warrant a card catalog then I'd suggest first putting all the books in the correct order and making sure the card catalog is accurate. dewey decimal system is your friend here.

    Once you have that down and not before, you can set up a basic database for your books.

    See if this works... first hit on google:
    http://www.primasoft.com/pro_software/library_software_pro.htm [primasoft.com]

    245 dollars for a complete package is dead cheap. This is a way better idea then programming your own access database. Do that if you're a bigger library or want customization. You probably don't care.

    Look around for some sort of complete all in one package. I just posted the first hit on google for this stuff. They have demos... try it out. Apparently they have barcode compatibility which will make check in and out a lot simpler.

    But all of that said... the books have to be in order and the card catalog has to be accurate. If people are going to procrastinate about organizing the books until the software is installed then do it backwards. But that's way more important then the database. A library with the books out of order is dysfunctional unless it's tiny.

    • by dskzero ( 960168 )
      Already at 5, but this is a good idea. While a library management software would be really easy to code, you do need to know how to code and how to code well. Spending 245 bucks into something that will make your business better is not a big investment that can nonetheless pay back a lot. So take the safe route.
    • I don't know how small your library is but if it's large enough to warrant a card catalog then I'd suggest first putting all the books in the correct order and making sure the card catalog is accurate.

      Speaking as someone who volunteered for several library projects - that's not how you convert a library over. For your database, you process books as they go through circulation. Ie, book returned? It goes into the "enter and re-shelve" pile. Or, alternatively, you at least initially enter the book whe

    • But all of that said... the books have to be in order and the card catalog has to be accurate. If people are going to procrastinate about organizing the books until the software is installed then do it backwards. But that's way more important then the database. A library with the books out of order is dysfunctional unless it's tiny.

      Actually, the software can help tremendously in getting the books in order. Most ILS systems have the capability to download MARC records for all the books, which automates the process of cataloguing. Good software will not only print the barcode stickers, but also the catalog stickers for the spine of the book, which you then use in shelving.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @06:37AM (#38594202) Homepage

    ... what makes you think people will bother learning and using an even more complicated electronic system? Non univerisity library users (generally) tend to be the older generation. They don't have the ooo-shiny! approach to computers so if its a hassle they won't use it. End of.

    • You're making several inaccurate presumptions. First, non-academic library users do come from all generations. Second, electronic systems are not more complicated than card catalogs from the user perspective -- most libraries find that general use of the library goes up when an electronic catalog is established, due to their making it easier to find materials. As for the topic at hand, if the group is familiar with library automation, I presume that some of them may also be familiar with cataloging enoug
    • by Kozz ( 7764 )

      ... what makes you think people will bother learning and using an even more complicated electronic system? Non univerisity library users (generally) tend to be the older generation. They don't have the ooo-shiny! approach to computers so if its a hassle they won't use it. End of.

      (submitter here): Well, the card catalog is largely a system for classification and to help you locate books, to know what you've got, and where it is. In our system, it's actually probably even smaller than everyone is thinking -- imagine a 12x20ft room with shelves from floor to ceiling, and half of them could be empty, depending on how tightly we packed each shelf. This is the reason most people walk in and can, for the most part, easily browse to find something they're interested in or are looking for

    • Except that people use electronic catalogs all the time. The reason people don't use card catalogs anymore is that they're used to having search functionality.

  • Koha? (Score:5, Informative)

    by hazem ( 472289 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @06:39AM (#38594208) Journal

    I've never used it myself, but I once worked with a librarian who tried out Koha and found it pretty feature-full.

    http://www.koha.org/ [koha.org]

    It might be a bit of overkill, but it has a large user-base and probably has every feature you could want.

    • by C0L0PH0N ( 613595 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @07:04AM (#38594302)
      The "Evergreen" library system is free and open source, and was initiated by the Georgia Public Library System in 2006, and is currently in use by over 850 libraries, including a "parish" library. You can check it out here: http://open-ils.org/about.php [open-ils.org]. The site also has a link to a showcase of libraries already running, and on the Internet. The "client" runs on Windows, Mac or Linux. I think the server runs on Linux.
      • by migla ( 1099771 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @07:31AM (#38594406)

        I noticed that the FAQ about Evergreen states the following:

        "Evergreen was designed from the ground up to meet the needs of a very large (more than 270-member) library lending consortium whose members collaborate but are not in lockstep on policies. Evergreen needed to be able to handle large indexing and transaction loads while supporting highly-configurable policies for each member library. "

        Also the above mentioned KOHA seems to flaunt very complex features (not that these two would then necessarily be complicated or overkill).

        Openbiblio, claims to be targeted at smaller libraries.
        http://obiblio.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

        I don't know anything about any of these, but maybe worth a look.

        From the main site, it doesn't look like much is happening, but a post in the dev part of the forums indicates a new version is being worked on.

      • how about a nice Oracle license to go with it? as part of this special slashdot offer, this amazing software can be yours for the low, low price of only $4999.99. But wait! There's more. If you call now.... you will get not only a one hundred, but a two hundred seat license! That's more than enough for any small church! Act fast, this offer is only good for the next 24 hours!

        • Actually, Evergreen, which the parent was recommending is backed by the free PostgreSQL database, rather than Oracle. My university library [uwindsor.ca] recently switched from Voyager to an Evergreen derived system for that very reason.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I suggest you use PMB instead. It's very simple to install (php based) and after an hour of work, you should already be encoding new books.
      Avoid Koha like the pleague. It's very powerful, but the install process can take days of work for a unix guru.
      The community is very active and helpful. Koha people will ask you to RTFM or hire them.

      (Having worked as tech support for my librarian gf who studied the differences between the two, I can tell you I don't invent this).

      • Koha is a little bit of a bear compared to "drop and serve" php apps, but it's not "days of work for a unix guru." I'm a web developer, and with hobbyist level sysadmin skills, and I got it done in a couple of hours, most of which was working on my first-ever Apache virtualhost setup because I was already running my website on the same host.

        Can't comment on the community, but the docs are pretty useful.

      • Actually, if you don't mind running a vm, my cohort Kyle has created a Koha virtual appliance available here: http://millruntech.com/koha/koha-virtual-appliances [millruntech.com] You can also set up Koha with self checkout. And I have to say I think your statement about Koha people is inaccurate. Just have a look at the very active mailing list archives to see otherwise. Occasionally you may have that but overall Koha folks are very willing to help.
    • Re:Koha? (Score:5, Informative)

      by dingram17 ( 839714 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @08:10AM (#38594526) Homepage
      If you are going to use Koha, I suggest going to the community based library that developed it, not the company that grabbed the source and grabbed trademarks all around the world. The 'original' developers are at http://koha-community.org/ [koha-community.org]. LibLime (the other guys) have even tried to stop the Koha developers using the name Koha - the very name they came up with. Koha is Maori for 'treasure', and this free software is certainly a treasure for libraries that don't want to spend a fortune on software.
    • I have not used Koha either, but it has a reputation of being a very usable solution for libraries, large and small. It is FOSS, too (GPLv2).

      Koha originated in New Zealand, and the Maori word koha means "gift", in line with FOSS. Liblime is a US company which offers service and support for Koha.
  • 3M SelfCheck System (BCS-Series) is what I've seen some libraries use. May not fit your situation cost wise, and definitally isn't FOSS.
  • If you scan all the works and make them available as electronic books (*), then you don't have to bother with patrons returning their copy at all. Saves a lot of bureaucratic busywork and data entry.

    As is often the case, embracing a technology completely to its logical end brings new advantages.

    (*) This will make Jesus cry. Don't do it. Unless you live in a drought affected area. Then you should probably do it for the good of the neighbouring farmers, but he'll kick your ass when you hit the pearly gate

    • I've noticed that the copyright holders of religious material are some of the most zealous about demanding their royalties, even to the point of performance rights for hymns, etc.

      They would definitely not like this.

      • I was assuming most of the authors would be dead already (ie 18th/19th century works - there's a lot of religious material written during that time). IIRC in the US, anything before 1923 is fair game.
        • I was assuming most of the authors would be dead already

          Some dead folks tend to make a lot of money: Elvis and Bob Marley, for example. They generate millions every year, despite the fact that they are really quite dead. Amy Winehouse has just joined their choir. Lawyers get the most of it, though.

          Even Monty Python's parrot is still making money, and no, he is not resting . . .

    • by migla ( 1099771 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @07:11AM (#38594344)

      Why would scanning and ebooks make Jesus cry?

      Isn't he the guy who copied all that fish and bread and distributed it for free to all those hungry people?

      That's kind of like we now copy and distribute knowledge, information and culture for free to people starved to learn and enjoy culture?

      I imagine the bakers and the fishers industry associations of judea (BIAJ and FIAJ, respectively) were real pissed back then .

      If we can give knowledge, information and culture to people for free, we obviously should, just as we should copy the fishes and the bread to feed the hungry if we had the power.

  • by montyzooooma ( 853414 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @06:44AM (#38594240)
    I ask because the public library services pays a yearly fee and the small print in most books prohibits lending without permission. Just throwing that out there. I'd say go for it, but I lack moral guidance.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Meet my friend Mr. First Sale Doctrine [wikipedia.org].

    • It depends where your library lives. Some countries have royalty fee Public Lending Right programs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Lending_Right [wikipedia.org]

      Others don't.

      Big Media suing Small Church isn't exactly good PR. Especially since all the stuff in a church library is mostly His Words. But Big Media has a big enough Ego to sue God.

      Big Media doesn't like books, because they can be transferred too easily without proper DRM tracking. Which is why books will be made illegal. Fire Departments will soon be

      • It depends where your library lives. Some countries have royalty fee Public Lending Right programs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Lending_Right [wikipedia.org]

        Others don't.

        Although the poster doesn't mention the country where they are located, it might be useful to note that the First Sale Doctrine in the United States means that libraries don't have to pay any royalty or PLR fee to lend books at all. So, if you're in the US, anyone can start up a library.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Tech isn't needed everywhere.

  • Just put a webcam where it can see people taking and removing books and record low-rate video.

    No one has to change what they do, but you have a record if a book is not returned.

    • And you're going to store these vast amounts of low-rate video where? How long are you going to keep them? Who is going to review the vast amounts of video, keeping copious notes on everyone who takes a book...
      • The nice thing is you only need to look at it if anything goes wrong -- a book is missing or damaged, for instance. Otherwise, people carry on using the paper system they're used to. As for storage, a 1TB disk should hold a year or so no problem.

        • You only need to look at a vast stretch of it if anything goes wrong. And I'm not sure how low-rez you're planning on making the video, while having full coverage of the store AND being able to make out faces AND the titles of books.

          I'm sorry, but this isn't a workable plan. It also doesn't take any of the OP's requirements into account; does this sound like "a complete solution for both administration and self-checkout; label printing, checkout receipts, and so on" to you?

  • librarything.com (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScottyKUtah ( 716120 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @07:09AM (#38594330)
    I set up an account with Librarything.com, and we're going through the process of adding all of the books to the website.

    The main advantage of this is that anybody can browse the library's collection anytime they want. On Sunday mornings they flash the URL up on the stage.

    We're still using the paper checkout process though. The old ladies that run the library are 80+ years old, and are former librarians back when Eisenhower was in office. I figure one tech upgrade at a time is all they can handle.

  • Tellico (Score:4, Informative)

    by water-and-sewer ( 612923 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @07:09AM (#38594332) Homepage

    Why not use something as simple as possible? Keep the card system in place, and track it all using a collection manager like Tellico. I use Tellico for my personal library, which is probably about the size of the library you're managing. I'd say keep the card system in place - you're never going to get people to fill out online forms etc. And then use Tellico to answer the questions "What have I got?," "What's been checked out?" and "to Whom?" Seems like that's all you need at this stage.

  • dont computerize it

    • It probably is, though. I suspect people borrow books, forget the due date or even that they have it, and the "librarians" are stuck with a large box of cards and no idea which refer to books that are due and which aren't. When someone returns a book they need to go through all the lending cards until you find the right one. If you can't find it - maybe the lender has forgotten to fill it in, or it was confused with one by another lender on return or ..

      Basically they don't have an accurate record which b

  • I have used MediaMan in the past, and enjoyed what it brought to the table. http://www.imediaman.com/products/mediaman.html [imediaman.com]

    It supports flagging books as loaned out to person X, etc. It can export the database as a website so people can hit a web page to know if a book is in or out, etc.

    They have a server product, but I've never used it.

    I'm not associated with the project, just a user of it.

    Other similar media organizers probably exist too, depending on how "formal" you want the experience to be, and if othe

  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Thursday January 05, 2012 @07:58AM (#38594496)

    If your library is small and you have no tracking what-so-ever installed, or only trust-based tracking, Delicious Library [delicious-monster.com] might be the right thing. It's a personal solution focussing on private collections, but it is very fun and easy to use, supports barcode scanning with simple webcams and retrieves its item/katalog data via the web by scraping amazon and other sources when adding items, so you'll save yourself the hassle of data entry.

    Even if you use a different solution in the end, the data retrieval system might be worth looking at, to save yourself data-entry headaches.

    My 2 cents.

    • ...Delicious Library might be the right thing...

      Seconded. If you're looking for something really, really simple and easy to use for people that are not technically expert and you don't mind shelling out for an old Mac Mini and $35 for the software; this is a really solid choice. From a usability point of view it simply blows everything else out of the water.

  • Every book a barcode and every usercard a barcode. The only thing people has to do is scanning their usercard first and then the books they lend. When they return their books you do not even need to scan the usercard. It is the system our local library uses and it is a quite big one so it should work for a small one too.
  • "Tech for a Small Liberation Army". %-)

  • Get involved with code4lib http://code4lib.org/about [code4lib.org] and ask on their mailing list. I see tech solutions have already been suggested, Koha, Evergreen - also look at Blacklight http://projectblacklight.org/ [projectblacklight.org], but the knowledge in the code4lib group will be invaluable.
  • Buy a old Tape library robot from ebay, instead of tapes make it hold books. now you have a "library in a vending machine" and it will keep those churchies from stealing books or keeping them for months past the return date.

    Bonus points if you make it look like a REDBOX rental vending machine.

  • by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @09:25AM (#38594912)

    My only experience with Library software was with Follett's package in a school library with about 8000 items. I do not recommend Follett. It runs fine and user complaints were minimal. As I recall, the database self destructed a couple of times, but reviving the DB was fairly straightforward. On the other hand installation and upgrade were unpleasant. The maintenance instructions verged on incomprehensible and one upgrade required rebuilding the entire data base -- a process that turned out to be appallingly slow. I had to wait for a vacation to do that. And from I'm told it is expensive. Fortunately, it didn't come out of my budget.

    On my last visit to our local library, the librarian -- who was not a fan of Follett either -- told me that they had just upgraded from Follett to an open source product of some sort thereby saving a bundle of money. She was quite enthused about the new software. I didn't have a lot of time, but I did look at the screens a user would encounter and they looked fine. It looks like the program they changed to is Koha. Here's a link to their catalog on line http://brownell.kohavt.org/ [kohavt.org]

  • As previous posters have mentioned, ILS software has been done to death, and it's complex enough that it's consolidated down to probably half a dozen to a dozen serious products. There are a couple of FOSS products out there and several that are not. In my experience, the ones that are not are more full-featured and require less configuration and less day-to-day management. I have a preferred ILS vendor I'd recommend (Innovative Interfaces), but they're almost certainly far too expensive (and far too pow

  • by Rob the Bold ( 788862 ) on Thursday January 05, 2012 @10:11AM (#38595360)

    When a church -- or other small organization's -- library falls into disorder, it's usually because the little old lady, who served as the volunteer librarian since she was middle aged, has gone to her reward.

    Unfortunately, no amount of automation can make up for this. Your system -- no matter how advanced, primitive, simple or whatever -- really requires an owner. Without this, it will fall into disorder just as the previous one did and you'll be back to square one.

    If you can't find a new volunteer librarian, don't do it. You'll spend most of your time cataloging, and then entropy will take over.

    • Bingo. Mod this up.

      Any cataloging system (library or otherwise) will eventually rot if there is no-one to own and maintain it, ensuring that the data matches the real world.

      This is why retailers have monthly inventories. No matter how good your system is, if it's not physically attached to the objects being tracked (and sometime even then) then discrepancies between the physical objects and the catalog will creep into place until it reaches the same out-of-date situation the submitter finds themselves in no

  • I happened to have scanned my modest book library here (~500 items) with GCstar [gcstar.org], which works pretty well. It can download covers and details from Amazon and so on, based on the ISBN (although the latest version in Debian fails to do that properly [debian.org] for some reason). Before deciding on GCstar, I had evaluated multiple solutions [koumbit.org], including Koha and custom-based solutions, none of which being simple enough for my uses, which made me settle on GCstar... The full details of the evaluation are in the Koumbit wiki [koumbit.net].


  • You could type the ISBN into a label using a bar code font and use a simple inventory control program with a bar code scanner, or you could go the whole library software hog and work the problem to death.
  • For a modestly-sized library, Tellico [slashdot.org] could fit your needs.

  • I am a sometimes user of a simple library database, at a volunteer organisation, that was developed in Claris Filemaker Pro 2.0 v1. This is "as old as the hills", but you might be able to find a free download! (Contact me if you'd like me to get the source files from that organisation; that might make building the application easier.)

    Otherwise, LibraryThing.com looks fine, and participating there will allow lots of people to know what religious publications are about.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.