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Archive for Tuesday, May 21, 1996

LIBRARY LOGS ONTO COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY

May 21, 1996

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Lawrence Public Library's new computer catalog and circulation system -- overdue by industry standards -- goes online today.

Before today, American playwright Eugene O'Neill -- who died in 1953 -- would have felt right at home in Lawrence Public Library.

He could have walked into the building at 707 Vt., paused at the card catalog and located some of his finest work: "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "The Iceman Cometh," "Beyond the Horizon" and "Strange Interlude." But when library director Bruce Flanders flips a switch today, he'll move the library out of O'Neill's realm by engaging a $250,000 computer catalog and circulation system.

The objective isn't to scare off the likes of O'Neill, but to use computers to make it easier for patrons to find the dramatist's writings or any of the library's 210,000 books, magazines, compact discs and videos.

"It's no exaggeration that we'll enter a new era," Flanders said Monday. "It greatly expands access to our collection."

For example, folks can do a search for O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten" by focusing on key words. In this case, "moon" or "misbegotten."

On the library's new system, the database will identify "Moon for the Misbegotten." The search also will retrieve a book of O'Neill's collected plays, which might have been difficult to find in the card catalog.

Other advantages of the high-tech program:

  • Library staff and patrons can determine immediately if an item is checked out and, if so, the due date.
  • The check-out process will be quicker with introduction of bar-code scanners common to grocery stories.
  • Library staff will be able to accurately determine the popularity of holdings. That information can influence book-buying decisions.

While browsing on Monday, Becky Smithson of Lawrence said she wanted to be counted among the library's patrons who won't miss the card catalog.

"I'm no computer genius," she said, "but it has to be faster than dealing with thousands of tiny cards."

Flanders said borrowers would be issued new library cards. Thousands of people have already registered for replacement cards, but lines might move slowly while staff sign up everyone else.

He said volunteers will be on hand this week to orient patrons.

Children will likely take to the automated system more rapidly than adults, Flanders said.

"We're so confident of that we've removed the card catalog from the children's department," he said.

Most Kansas libraries the size of Lawrence's installed computer systems long ago. However, Flanders said, the delay locally meant the library ended up with an advanced online catalog system.

Despite years of planning, the start-up causes butterflies.

"You're always excited and nervous when a new system of this magnitude goes on line," Flanders said.

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