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Automatic Requests – One Consortium’s Trial

Gillian Ellern, Western Carolina University
Leith Tate, University of North Carolina, Asheville
Dana Edge, Western Carolina University
Catherine Wilkinson, Appalachian State University
Lynne Lysiak, Appalachian State University
Web Site:

The Western North Carolina Library Network is a three library consortium (University of North Carolina, Western Carolina University and Appalachian State University) spanning some 145 miles of often mountainous country.

It began in 1983 as an attempt at co-operative purchase and maintenance of an integrated library system. The institutions came with varying backgrounds and readiness for automation but comparisons of a co-operative effort versus purchase of standalone systems showed that co-operation would allow the purchase of a complete system.

In 1986 an LS2000 system began operation with a single circulation system. Materials were delivered between campuses by the “ABC Express,” the ABC representing the campus towns of Asheville, Boone and Cullowhee. The round trip of about six hours driving could be completed in a day by a contracted van service. Requests were on paper and faxed between campuses.

In August 1994 the system migrated to Innovative.

In the spring of 1995 online requesting of monographs began. Books were checked out to bogus patron records for the van/institution, a process which inflated circulation statistics.

The system has seen rapid growth in requests, at first in 1994 as all terminals could see all collections and then in 1995 when patrons could place their own requests. 1997 saw only slight increases in usage.

Costs of the ABC system worked out to $2.66 per item including transport, labour, telecommunications (faxes) and supplies.

Today the success of the shared system and ABC Express is leading to other sharing initiatives between the libraries (e.g., licencing of databases).

A number of trials worked towards improving the service.

At first manual processing of requests was used but this was changed to automatic processing to better track requests, get more accurate statistics, allow sorting of requests when printing and enable better patron notification through view own record and e-mail. This operation also fitted more closely Innovative’s intention for the function.

A major trial was then held. The trial, held in May 1995, failed for a variety of reasons. These are listed here to give other libraries some guidance about issues to consider.

Trial Two was conducted in Summer/Fall of 1997. This was a SUCCESS! Some of the factors which helped it succeed were:

There were still problems however and the system needs constant maintenance. Management of the hold shelf is critical because mistakes are hard to fix. Patrons still make mistakes about pickup locations. A book gets touched a lot in the process with multiple checkins and mistakes have to be fixed manually.

Overall, however, the system works well and the pickup rate for items is 80-90%.

Setup elements of the system that need to be considered are:

Enhancements needed from Innovative include:

In answer to questions the team explained that:

This was a thorough description of the evolution of a service which illustrated some of the pitfalls the consortium encountered and how they were overcome, to the benefit of all who heard it.

Recorded by: Michael Wood, Deakin University Library

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