Computers and advanced technologies have made it possible to enhance services in diverse industries including libraries. Through library automation, in-house collections and resources can be computerised, spreadsheets and databases can be automated, CD-ROMs can be provided in-house and the Internet can be made available to patrons. Various factors must be considered when planning library automation include how automation will help the library and educate the public, how automation fits into the library's technology plan and how it fits into the budget.
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Improved Customer Service
Library automation reduces the workload for library staff in terms of cataloguing, circulation and acquisitions. This frees up time to provide a higher quality of service to library patrons. The staff become available to answer reference questions, help people with research work and find information on request. With automation, finding library materials such as books and reference journals becomes easier and less time consuming. Patrons no longer have to wait ages for a harried library staff member to attend to requests.
With the help of library automation, automated cataloguing standards, for example, machine readable cataloguing (MARC) help librarians to catalogue items quickly. It is possible to catalogue items for easy reference using vendor-supplied catalogues. Professional cataloguing with the use of scanning technology can be employed where bar codes on books can be scanned directly into the catalogue database. Automated cataloguing makes the task of keeping track of library materials that much easier. It also helps to quickly identify inventory stock when budgeting for new library materials.
There are many benefits to library automation, but one of the major disadvantages is employee cutbacks. With a huge amount of the budget being spent on automation, there is generally not much funding left over for salaries and employee benefits. Further, the need for the full complement of library staff is not there anymore. Automation takes over many of the functions that people perform. For example, patrons can check out their own books by swiping the library card and then scanning the book's bar code in a special scanning machine. Patrons no longer need people to help them locate library materials, the computers provide the information.
Library automation leads to increased building and maintenance costs. Libraries that automate find their power consumption due to increased heating and air conditioning needs, rising beyond the anticipated levels. The noise and heat levels generated by people and many machines costs more than what a library is used to paying for its maintenance and power costs. Most library buildings are old structures and a good deal of remodelling work such as wiring and heating and cooling ducts will be needed to support the automation. Automation costs a lot of money to install and maintain, and libraries often overshooting the budget and running out of funding as a result.
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