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Circulation Tasks That Have Been Simplified or Enhanced by Using Outside Programming

Kelly Sikora, Kent State University
Rob Kairis, Kent State University

This session dealt with Kent State University Libraries’ use of scripts for certain repetitive functions. A script is a predefined series of keystrokes in terminal emulation simulating a human operator. Some advantages of scripts include:

Reduction of repetitive re-typing.

Facilitation of functions such as logging on.

Increased productivity.

Simplification of complicated online functions.

However, one thing scripts will not allow you to do is create a feature that is not already available.

Intelligent scripts, in addition to saving keystrokes, are scripts that make logical decisions based upon server responses to the keystrokes sent. Characteristics of intelligent scripts include:

Using intelligent scripts approaches the creation of “expert systems.”

Some script writing conventions need to be kept in mind. These include reading screen displays, creating a logging file, timing, input/output and making use of INI files.

Reading screen displays is a built-in function of the scripting language and can include the capture of screens (printing them to a file, then read).

Creating a logging file helps as a debugging tool and can be used to historically record information (statistics gathering).

Sometimes time intervals need to be employed. Programs should avoid time delays whenever possible, but plan for when you need them.

Input/output functions make use of temporary files or arrays. They also clear array variables (and temp files) after use.

Finally, screen displays and menu options can be loaded into a config file so that as menu options change no source code changes are needed – just adjustments to the config options in the INI file.

Kent State is using intelligent scripts from two different programs. They run ProComm Plus scripts for creating on-search lists, loading patron records, printing items to be billed, and printing circulation notices. Visual Basic Custom Control scripts are used for counting in-house use and reserves.

In her portion of the presentation, Kelly Sikora stressed the importance of having a circulation person and a programmer work together on writing the scripts. She also stressed the importance of saving to a file, so you can resurrect your data if there is a problem. One bad point is the timing issue – if it encounters a problem, the script stops. If a script stops your entire aim is defeated since one of the great things about using scripts is the ability to run these processes at night when the library is closed.

The script for printing notices is one with which she is especially pleased. “Statement of Charges” data is sent to MS Access files, charges are consolidated, and the staff then prints out finished, professionally appearing notices from MS Access. Information should be sent to the server in ASCII text, not binary text. Other scripts that she has used successfully are for serials claiming (with a caveat that claims disappear if there is a problem) and renewing faculty books.

Recorded by: Jessie Cranford, University of Arkansas at Little Rock/Pulaski County Law Library

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