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Strategies for “Selling” System Expansion

Leslie Straus, Innovative Interfaces, Inc.
Joyce Bogin, Middle Country Public Library
Deborah Jenkins, Marquette University

Leslie Straus opened this panel discussion, stating that she has been involved with many library funding proposals, from an observer's point of view. From that perspective, she offered some comments on how her office might help with system expansion needs. Customer Sales is considered to be an extension of service at Innovative, as compared with other companies, where Sales mostly means new installations. The desire at Innovative is to provide customers with the information they need, to expand their systems rationally. Of course, this helps the company retain its customers. Libraries seeking to expand systems should ask themselves what is it they want their systems to do. This focus on goals will help articulate needs and to build funding proposals for parent administrations or outside agencies. Customer Sales can assist not only with a needs assessment but also through providing further reasons for the desired purchases, and providing referrals to other customers.

Important factors in selling system expansion proposals are cost and timing. With regard to cost, Millenium package proposals are likely to include several modules, with the cost for each less than if it was purchased separately. On the other hand, requests for single items may be easier for funding agencies to support. Timing is a factor in predicting when it would be appropriate to put a proposal together. Factors here include grant deadlines, bond issues, new building construction, new programs or increased responsibilities. Innovative can provide better help with greater lead-time.

Joyce Bogin of the Middle Country Public Library (Centereach, Long Island, New York) spoke about the development of their Community Resource Database. This implementation of the Community Information module had its roots as far back as 1980. In that year, the Suffolk Coalition for Parents and Children began to compile paper directories of resources and projects for children and parents. In 1991, the library received a state legislative grant, sufficient to begin creation of a database using the Community Services Locator software.

The project grew through a series of grants, often small, from a number of organizations. The original software eventually became too difficult to use as the database grew. In addition, it was not accessible from outside the library itself. It was realized that if the database were available through the library catalog, it would be accessible via dial access (the primary means of access at that time). Funding for the Innovative software was made available on the basis of greater accessibility and ease of use. In 1994, the Society for Human Resources Professionals agreed to provide funding if the database was expanded to include the whole of Long Island. Additionally, six private funders provided money to develop a business plan, so that the project could be self-sustaining without continual reliance on grant money. Today, access is free to local libraries, with subscriptions sold to other agencies. One lesson to be drawn from this story is that system expansion is possible when the library sees an opportunity, and can form alliances with other agencies to bring it to fruition.

Deborah Jenkins discussed Marquette’s strategies for funding system upgrades. She described three projects: a hardware upgrade, purchase of the WebPAC, and a Millenium package purchase. Each project involved a different funding route. Marquette's hardware, previously a DEC RISC machine running on Ultrix software and housed in the campus ITS office was replaced and purchased with an Alpha running on Unix. This replacement was made a pressing need because the 96-simultaneous-user license with Ultrix, although free, was due to expire in 1998. In addition, the hardware was getting old and it was difficult to find replacement disks and other parts. As part of this transition, Marquette went from a software-only to a turnkey site, finding that the costs were similar. The upgrade to WebPAC was seen as a "must do" new service for patrons, building on the institution's extensive home page development. To make the WebPAC usable, Marquette needed new funds for hardware to replace a number of dumb terminals. The library applied to the Parents Association Fund, which mounts an annual drive to provide a new student-focused service for the University. The Association, which had previously funded a computerized classroom and new PCs, accepted the application for WebPAC hardware and raised about $150,000. This was actually more than was needed, so the leftover money was used to endow a browsing collection. The combination of books and hardware was both aesthetically and politically appealing!

Ms. Jenkins described Marquette's commitment to the Millenium package proposal as "faith in vaporware", or more specifically in Innovative's ability to deliver on its promises. The discount available on Millenium modules and other software products was also appealing. The money for the project will come from unused salary dollars; since this is a project that will primarily benefit the staff, the library decided not to approach the Parents Fund for a third time. There was some risk involved in this maneuver: while the University administration was willing to use this source of money, it wanted to make sure that its budget would end up in the black for the year. The library, however, couldn't wait on this decision, and so borrowed funds from its acquisitions/serials budget for the Millenium package purchase. Fortunately, the unused staff funds were released, and paid back into the materials budget.

Recorded by: David Miller, Curry College

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