Criteria for Selection and Evaluation of Library Software Packages

Criteria for Selection and Evaluation of Library Software Packages: In any endeavour in which we make a substantial investment of money, energy, and time or other resources, we like to know what kind of return we are getting. The ability to evaluate the return on our investment gives us the basis on which to choose between alternatives. So an evaluation is basically a judgment of worth, it is a matter of comparison of actual result with external standard, in the light of existing institutional realities which may be relevant to evaluating the future trajectory of the programme or services and provide an objective basis for decision making. Like any evaluative process, library software evaluation is also quite a difficult task. It mainly involves four basic aspects i.e.

a) Whether software will be commercial;

b) In-house developed software packages;

c) Freeware

d) Open Source Software

In case of commercial software, it will cost a huge investment. In case of In-house developed software packages, it will consume much of the library budget, time from the library staff (in the form of constant evaluation and modification to the library software packages to become stable) and create problem in retrospective conversion. In case of freeware, there is a problem with technical support. But the Open Source Software has not any major disadvantages, if it has a online community for technical support. But in all cases, we have to consider the following procedure, features and aids to evaluate the software package.

A) Preliminary Steps

a) Consulting Others: No one wants chosen software to stop unexpectedly, slow down on large network, report error message. So, before making a choice, it will be better to consult a person who has already used the software in the same way or consult people who have already gained experience on that software package.

b) Reputation of the Referrer: The reputation of a person or the institution, his/her/its experience on that particular software is the next point to be considered. The relation between the evaluator and the referrer should also be justified at this point.

c) Existing Literature: It is better to go for the software after carefully examining the existing literature and documentation on the particular software packages.

B) Manufacturers and Vendor

a) Reputation of the Manufacturer and Vendor: What is the reputation of the software vendor or manufacturer in the market or for how long they are working in the field is the next important thing to consider.

b) Training: Does the company or authority of the particular software provide training? Where and how the training is conducted, whether it is online, onsite? It is another point to be considered.

c) Documentation / Manual: Is training accompanied by easy-to-follow supporting print material or manual. How good the manual is? It is also an important point to consider.

d) Updating: Does the library automation system company from their own website help to install, upgrade (web based updates), and patches or simply help one with a particular function. How is the new modification / new version of the software to be obtained by the librarian?

e) Post Installation Support: Post installation support from the vendor.

C) General Features of the Software Package

a) Multiple Platforms: The software package chosen should run on various computer platforms i.e. server, mainframe to simple PCs. The software should also be able to run in multiple platforms such as windows XP, windows 2000, windows N.T., etc.

b) Existing Standard: Software should support internationally known standards such as MARC 21, CCF, AACR2, LCSH and data export/import in ISO 2709 (MARC/ CCF). If possible, the software chosen should also comply with UNICODE.

c) Integrated: The software should permit collaborative working and all modules should be integrated in nature.

d) Flexibility: The software should make it easy to switch between the OPAC and writing station because there are times when one would want the public OPAC station to function as writing station and at other times when would like the writing station to function as OPAC. The software package chosen should also be so flexible as to handle the records of variable sizes.

e) Capacity: The restriction in total number of database / information / records in a database enable the software to be handled effectively.

f) Speed: Speed of operation in different environment.

g) Standardize Data Format for Import and Export: The software should use standardized data format for importing and exporting of data from and to the software.

h) De-Bugging Facility: De-bugging facility and scope of proper error message while executing the software are to be ensured.

i) User Friendliness: The software should build on GUI based environment. It should provide expert advice and assistance in performing any task. It should empower the experienced user with short cut and inexperienced user with menu driven icon, dialogue box, etc. giving clickable access to the software. The software that is built on other platform should have the mnemonic based command.

j) Object Linking and Embedding (OLE): The Object Linking and Embedding feature helps to create objects in one application and then to embed it in a record of the software package running on the computer. If the software package chosen has this feature then it is good.

k) Effectiveness: Does the system meet the specification?

l) Reliability: Does the search in the software give consistent result?

m) Customization and Expandability: The system should permit addition of new feature to meet the local need and use.

D) Services

a) Acquisition: Does the system carry out duplicate checking while entering the data. Does it have the capacity to print accession register? How effective the system is for data entry? Does the software provide an easy way for editing records? Are insertion and deletion of records easy?

b) Cataloguing: Cataloguing through retrospective conversion facility, provision of catalogue card printing, etc.

c) Circulation: Provision for issue, return, renewal, grace period, overdue alert, computation of fines, reservation of document, etc.

d) Serial Control: Provision of monitoring multiple issue of a serial, provision of grace period for receiving the serial, provision of renewal, overdue alert,  entering the abstract of a serial.

e) OPAC: Provision of reservation through OPAC, provision of searching OPAC from outside the library, provision of searching the OPAC and web simultaneously (Meta search) using a single word search.

f) Library Administration: The software should allow generation of different kinds of reports i.e. collection statistics, circulation statistics and also should be helpful to create one’s own specialized report to meet the specialized need. It should also have the facility to assign different right to the software for different categories of library staff.

E) New Technologies: The library software package should keep pace with global technology, web enhancement, online information, virtual services, provision of barcode facility, handling un-catalogued item, etc.

a) Network Capabilities: Provision of LAN connectivity, scope of integration of the software package with other school department, provision of accessing the software from computer outside the school walls via a web browser.

b) Web Enabling: Provision of web enabling through link to the Application Service Provider (ASP) or to the school web server, provision of internet connectivity, Email connectivity, etc. This is an advantage, where the cataloguer can work from remote location and OPAC can be accessed from both home and school, 24 hours a day.

c) Enhanced MARC Data: Many softwares allow to catalogue website, E-Books, AV resources in addition to the library resources. The websites are added by the library media specialist manually.

d) Open Standard Technologies: Is the database built on open standard technologies such as SQL, cold fusion, or XML that allows different types of software to talk to each other? That means, different modules of the software can easily and automatically share and update any information is common e.g. students name, address, etc.

F) Securities

a) Log on/off: The software should provide the students and staff members the user id and passwords to log on/off facilities on their own. The system must also allow the administrator to provide access restriction to certain records/ fields of importance.

b) Power out Feature: Is any power out feature included?  The system should be with a manual hand scanner available to check the material in and out in the event of power failure that can later on easily be connected to the computer system.

G) Cost Factor of the Software Package

a) Total Cost of the Software Package: If the system comes in different modules (available in only circulation module, circulation plus cataloguing module) then the total cost of the system. Is to be considered whether the total cost is affordable or justified.

b) Cost of Support: Cost of training, on site support, etc.

c) Cost of Upgrade: Cost of future upgrades.

d) Future Exist Cost: In near future, if one wants to switch over to another package then the cost involved in such cases should also be considered.

e) Warranty: The software should come with performance and service warranty.

The technologies are shifting the horizon of library software packages every day, so, in choosing any software for library automation, if possible, we should look for the software package that has also the facility for federated search, and comply with the Open URL and Barcode and RFID technologies.