By Arthur Winzenried
Australia as a geographical entity has several characteristics which impact on Library and Library Technology in a major way. It is a large country, around the same size as the entire United States. In contrast, it has a very small population, some 17 million. Largely as a result of these two factors, complicated by its relative youthfulness (founded in 1788) communications are expensive by American and Continental standards. This is not to say that technology is in any way inferior. Australia has access to all the existing technology of the western world combined with a close proximity to the enormous Asian manufacturing sector. The net result of these factors is a high cost for Library communications and a plethora of individualistic, home-grown and sometimes even highly original solutions to information storage and retrieval.
There are literally hundreds of different Library “packages” on the Australian market. The vast majority of these are stand-alone systems, without communication facilities incorporated. For the most part they are based on similarly original cataloguing practices, often bearing little resemblance to standard formats. AUS marc, an adapted US marc system, is utilised by many of the larger libraries, but by no means all. Several large libraries use the British cataloguing system, a few, growing in number, use US marc. Our Adventist tertiary institution in Australasia, Avondale College is currently completing a transition to US marc bringing it in to line with the large University catalogue network, UniLinc, with which is connects. Their system is a book only system without any present possibility of connection with other Adventist institutions as a cooperative venture and without any possibility of expanding library systems to include text or multi media materials. Approach to library technology there does not seem to be adventurous and a physical card index remains the basic library system.
By contrast, the various secondary schools around the Australasian area are relatively well equipped and show commendable concern for improved resource management. The three largest secondary schools in our Australian Church system, Lilydale, Brisbane (Mt Gravatt) and Sydney (Strathfield) operate multimedia capable library packages. Lilydale is the odd-fellow in this collection. Brisbane and Sydney use the same package making interchange a simple possibility. Lilydale chose their system with slightly different criterion in mind and with the benefit of some experience in electronic systems. Interchange with the other schools is possible, though presents some problems. The major difficulty with interconnecting these academies is simply the high cost of telephonic communication over the relatively long distances. Major, ongoing costs are one of the expenses that most school administrations tend to shy clear of despite the possible values to their students.
The Lilydale experience has so far been restricted, by these and several other constraints, to a network within Victoria itself. Victoria is by Australian standards small, compact and densely populated. It contains four secondary schools operated denominationally, though only two of these currently offer the full six years of secondary schooling. This State has also been early to experiment with electronic sharing because of the Government requirements for senior schools which have seen a major trend away from book based learning to a “current literature” basis. Much of the senior secondary work requires sources of information no more than twelve months old, some no more than six months. This requirement immediately eliminates most book sources and even some periodical ones. Vertical file material, current research papers and mass media material have become the focus of attention. The compelling nature of the process requiring at the same time comprehensive and immediate coverage necessitates a more modern solution than does a book only collection. Further, the depth of a really effective collection as well as the manpower required to operate it made some electronic system compulsory. (When I first arrived at Lilydale it was normal to sit clipping from papers, filling the results for virtually the entire day only to have an equivalent number of articles removed permanently and unofficially from the files during the same day).
These pressures are not as immediate in some other states of Australia where different curriculum restraints are present. This has tended to encourage librarians to delay action on non-book resources. Specialist Libraries, such as the E.G.White Study Centre based at Avondale College, show greater interest in some form of resource management and possibly of sharing along the lines currently operating out of Lilydale. However, while the need for more immediate data access can be delayed a little in some places, change in this direction is inevitable. We are entering, I feel, an era where immediacy is everything. An age of mobile telephones on a global scale and international computer networking, is bound to spill over in some form to the world of education.
The “Lilydale Experience” was driven by several fairly unique, factors.
The outcome of these and other lesser considerations was selection of the best possible commercial package which offered flexibility based on readily available technology. With this in mind the selected program is Imagine 3 which is an adaptation of MS Access running within a Windows NT Advanced Server environment. The combination allows virtually any modern computer to be directly connected to the network (IBM, Mac, Unix, etc.) and yet operate any of the current commercial IBM or Mac products. The system as it currently stands incorporates the Library package within the overall operating framework which also includes MS Office (word processing, spreadsheet, desktop publishing, etc), several networked CD-ROMS (Encyclopedia, World Magazine Bank, Shakespear Study Guide, Guiness Disc of records, Science Adventure II, etc.) as well as DOS and Windows packs including Facts & Maps, Quick Verse, Polyfit, etc. Thus, rom the one interface a student can select one of several of these items and run them consecutively or simultaneously. Data from the library system may be directly saved then pasted to word processing, notes from a ROM can be similarly treated. The general environment is one based on windows practice and thus fairly familiar to most students.
The library package itself offers several distinct advantages which are important to the Academy and the way our resourcing needs operate.
For the most part students have adapted well to the changing computer interface environment. Windows is familiar to them and largely intuitive. The increased data access, especially of CD- ROM encyclopedia material, caused a virtual rash of print-out then paste then submit, with staff subsequently facing the task of identifying students own work from that of the electronic media. Plagiarism will continue to be an issue but it seems to be an inevitable one where ready-made data is more easily accessible. For the most part this problem has been defused by less emphasis on data collection and more on data interpretation. Thus, popular press assignments which once took the form of “Collect 10 articles on …. and comment on those articles”, is now more often along the lines of “Analyse carefully 10 articles on ……… with reference to any bias the writers might display.”
This shift in emphasis from the collection to the interpretation of data is probably in the long run going to more than offset the disadvantages of possible plagiarism as it will also encourage more thoughtful approach to data.
From a staffing point of view, scanning documents takes much the same time as did cutting and filling. The major advantage though is that while allowing access to the scanned material, the electronic system does not allow students to remove items from the collection. Further, keeping files up-dated, an impossible task for a single-handed library by manual means, is instantly possible using global commands within the system. To add to these advantages, automated indexing, a part of our Library package, provides at least preliminary indexing and cross-referencing fully automatically. The time saving involved here is enormous. Further, the program can handle any text file, even the largest, with considerable speed.
The feature of the program which allows cataloguing of all forms of material has proved a real asset. Common cataloguing of all items in one data base gives quick, complete access to the entire information system. Search facilities within the package allow searches of all forms as well. Thus it is possible to obtain hits of monograms, text files, images, CD-ROM, etc. all from the same search. The comprehensiveness of such a facility is at times more than is needed. However, the program also allows presetting of different search criterion. In this way, simple searches can be set up for elementary school users or those with limited language skills, set up for those with specific needs (eg. published in the last 24 months), or set up for a wide range of other specific needs.
Remote access provides a 24-hour Library with or without staff being present. Students initially reported difficulties with the Bulletin Board approach to remote access. This practice was discontinued and Remote Access Service (RAS) provided as replacement. RAS provides full access to Library sceen items as well as the student work directory. Students pick up programs or work items, act on those, and then replace them from home or any other modem site. In a similar way, the proposed wireless network connections will provide the same level of access within the campus limits.
One outcome already of this RAS operation is a move by Junior School students to commence providing Bible lessons on computer. Using RAS, shy students can thus carry out these lessons in the privacy of their own homes or domitary rooms, have them marked by operating students next day, and receive that feed-back next time they login. While only at planning and trial stage yet, it is clear that there is enormous outreach potential here utilising the rather “glamorous” appeal of a computer interface. Information technology lessons could well begin setting practical assignments to manufacture tests or lessons on Bible or any other subject. This arrangement is providing yet another situation in which curriculum, learning and Library are able to be integrated.
At the remote sites of Nunawading (18 miles), Keilor (40 miles) and Mildura (450 miles) a terminal connects to LAA via the normal phone lines and standard computer modems. Each location has the OPAC module of the Imagine package installed so that students search there just as they do at LAA. Cost of initial material was a hurdle and so modems currently in operation are not fast enough to provide best service. Despite this response has been very positive.
Nunawading has only recently automated its Library, before discussions as to sharing systems could take place. Their option cost some $9,000 in software for a program we have found out of date and very restricted here at LAA. It was the program we jettisoned in favour of the present one. Their contact with LAA has thus been restricted to data resourcing of vertical file materials. Images have not been shared as the telephone lines, of standard wire composition do not allow sufficient data flow. Their use of the system has been significant though.
Keilor, without an automated system of its own, has made considerable use of the LAA network system. Following introduction of the service in January this year, the decision has been made to become a Branch Library of LAA. This involved the smallest possible outlay, a software share payment to allow installation of Circulation and Cataloguing modules, and a standard IBM format 8mb RAM server. The arrangement gives the school fully autonomous library operations using the same package as LAA (an otherwise too expensive one) with all its advantages as well as those of copying LAA catalogue entries (saving time and labour) and meshing with LAA data banks on site (saving phone calls). This later advantage is considerable as Keilor is a long-distance call to LAA (local call charge every 3 min). Success of this arrangement has caused the much smaller school at Mildura to plan the same development. As communication between Mildura and LAA necessitates longer-distance phone calls (a considerable expense in Australia), the savings of this arrangement will be considerable. Yet, the service to the school will be even more considerable.
The entire exercise of establishing such a complex system has not been without its problems. I doubt that we have seen the end of them yet. From receipt of the grant which made the purchase possible, to final system operation overall involved some eighteen months of work. During this time several useful lessons were learned and several others possibly not learnt. One of the most interesting lessons, made only too apparent at an early stage, was the difficulty of convincing Administration that perhaps a Librarian is the best person to plan, organise and select equipment for a library program and operation. Constant revisions of the orders for equipment frequently added to the set up time and difficulties as unsuitable equipment was tried, prodded, checked and rechecked before admissions were made that they were after all inappropriate.
Although it may not be entirely appropriate in some ways to say this, we have experienced many of our difficulties in the wake of an early decision to use Hewlitt Packard equipment. This choice was made in good faith and with recommendations from several non-network users. In the event, the server itself and several other items have had to be completely replaced. Choice of such proprietary brands also prevented any part swapping for better operation and also hampered the retrieval of items like hard disks for use in newer machines. HP items simply did not match up with either its claimed specifications or specifications for its supposed compatibility. It does need to be said however, that we were using Windows NT as an operating system and HP machines are not necessarily made for this system. They are reported as working well with UNIX for example.
In the early stages, Administration would simply not accept that we needed 8mb RAM. We were being too extravagant. Three upgrades later and with many experimental tries in between, they found that what we absolutely need was 8mb RAM and why hadn’t we said so in the beginning.
One of the major concerns in the original proposal for a single, school-wide network was security of school administration files. After some considerable discussion, the Administrative network has remained physically separate from the information network.
At a second level of security, it was feared that student “hackers” would tamper with precious library and data files. In the event this has proved of no relevance. If there has been tampering, we are unaware of it, no records show such a problem (NT has a very complete accounting system for itself), and no problems of lost or damaged data have arisen which might point to such a problem. Students are given their own identity on the network and must logon to begin a session on the network and afterwards logoff. If this is done correctly, then student’s own files are saved in their own individual and protected directories on the main server. This process should provide, and for the best part is doing so, a considerable level of personal security.
Following installation of the initial school network, attention was directed towards the cost of maintaining such a system. There are two important considerations in this equation. First, on any agenda is the regular upgrading of any computers in the school. Second, is the upgrading of software applied. Only a short look at these considerations indicated an enormous budget growing each successive year, simply to maintain present standards. Some alternative was needed. At present, the solution would appear to lay in a radio LAN system within the LAA campus itself. Connection of the dormitories by conventional cables means expense initially and also subsequently. Computers attached to the cable also cost money. The alternate is a series of radio LAN links on the existing network (3 would appear sufficient) together with school policy changes to encourage students to buy corresponding cards for their own computers.
Students in the dorms tend to have better computers than the school can afford. Present indications are that the additional cost to themselves of LAN cards is minor if the facilities offered by connection are encouraging. Trials have proved satisfactory, and full implementation of a voluntary cordless LAN connection stage seems set for later this year.
The benefits of a radio LAN system are enormous. With students paying for and maintaining their own machines, School money can better be spent keeping software up to date. Further, considerable staff time and expertise is required by modern computer technology. The demands of a large network cannot usually be met by the often quite different skills of a Librarian, even with the help of a well intended, computer-literate class teacher.
One other aspect of the radio LAN, only just beginning to appear, is the application of portable computers in classroom activity. In several Melbourne schools, Lap-tops are compulsory from elementary levels. They have proved to be ideal for many students who can take their work from room-to-room and then home. In a radio LAN situation, it becomes possible for students to collect library data from within their classroom under supervision of their class teacher, store it and work on it at home or in class. Further, printing is simply a matter of pressing the button and then collecting the print from the nearest printer on the network – no wires, no cables, no disconnecting or connecting, no disk swapping.
This depends largely on the directions chosen by Adventist Educational administration. In the short term, LAA has been approached by our single South Australian (over 500 miles distant) secondary school regarding access to the network and full library facilities. The success or otherwise of such a move at Keilor will obviously indicate future directions for Adelaide.
Further, both the nearby Sanitarium Health Food Company headquarters (with their collection of nutrition and health documentation) and also the E.G.White Study Centre at Avondale, are expressing interest in some form of co-operation and data sharing/storage facility. Both of these organisations have considerable material in their keeping which is of interest to the students we are attempting to service. A common storage base for scanned materials (the originals retained by the owners) as well as a wider possible access is certainly desirable (see Fig.4).
In view of the possible cost savings as well as the many advantages of a single system servicing all our schools, it is our intention at present to encourage as much as possible the consideration of a central Division policy on electronic information. There is currently no uniform policy for resource storage and retrieval, yet this issue is a growing and important one. An extension from or development of the Lilydale based network could be of huge advantage to schools in our area which could also then be more economically linked to the international scene through our Internet connection.
Essentially then, the success or failure of this particular project in its wider context depends entirely on the extent to which the different schools, colleges and Educational Directors co-operate. If there is co-operation, it is entirely possible and probable that considerable money could be saved, yet a very advanced system of interconnected and mutually helpful data sources could be established across Australia, even across the world. Smaller establishments could thus benefit from the larger ones, resources could be shared and much time, energy and money saved.
I tend to believe that only if this occurs are our Educational establishments, especially the smaller ones, likely to survive into the next century. Information management is the key. If we cannot provide it in an immediate, user-friendly way, the future will not be ours.
(Secondary & Post-Secondary only)
The concept of an all hours library is one which for may years seemed totally out of place – an impossible situation, an exhausting possibility. However, in today’s world of high technology more than one 24 hour information highway is already in place within the community. Why should school and college libraries lag behind. Isn’t it more important that our students have access to information needed as part of their education just as much as they should have access to all the financial jargon, pornography and whiz-bangs of Internet or Compuserve?
While existing networks are available, for the most part they need considerable experience to access, often far above the average students ability. Further, not being geared specifically to education or any particular curriculum, they are of only limited value to the school situation.
At LAA this has been part of our concern for the past two years and we feel that after looking at progress that has been made, there are several important lessons learned that are better passed on before others make the same mistakes.
There seem to be two approaches to the all-hours service for school libraries. The cheaper alternative seems to be that of a bulletin board to which students connect and on which is located various data the students might need for their work. This arrangement has the advantage of being cheap and very secure as far as any possible access to school administration files.
There are several companies offering bulletin board facilities and maintenance for those libraries that do not have access to their own technical staff. There are also several useful and fairly user-friendly BB programs that can be purchased and installed with a minimum of fuss.
Onto the BB can be placed such items as scanned vertical file material, JAC, E-mail, word files, even school bulletins, newsletters, etc. However, searching of these items is at best basic. BB searches are restricted to list searching rather than conventional library search processes. Further, the nature of BB arrangements allows considerable student freedoms. They can place items on the BB for other students at any time. While this can be a very educational process in terms of experience with electronic medium, E-mail, etc. it can also lead to the problems commonly associated with larger systems, that of censorship.
If your particular library represents certain standards of behaviour, morality or whatever, as does ours, this can present a problem. What do you say, for example, to an irate parent who has discovered their teenage daughter in receipt of hard core material she has just picked up off the school bulletin board?
Our limited experience has suggested that these risks are high, perhaps unnecessarily so. More essentially though, student response has been poor with many potential users trying the system once or twice then never again. Their reason being that the search facility and limitations of the BB format do not meet their needs adequately.
The second approach is a full Remote Access system (RAS). This arrangement allows students direct access to the full library system at all hours. It gives every student the same access as they would have during normal school hours. In our case that includes access to their written work (stored on the school data systems main server) as well as library OPAC, vertical file data and some CD Rom material. Because there is a direct link with the main system, security issues become a concern to be dealt with but students cannot add unwelcome material to the network except in their own files and under whatever controls on the main system we can impose.
LAA has shifted in the last few months from BB to RAS in order to better provide for student requirements. There are problems and we still have much to do before all the difficulties are met. Despite this, the student response has been excellent and considerable progress is being made.
Dr. Arthur Winzenried is librarian at Lilydale Academy, Lilydale, Victoria, Australia