20 April 2011

Questions and Perfectionism

One of the main reasons I came to Uganda this year is to help 'computerize' the library at RTC. In library terms, I am installing an Integrated Library System (ILS) and cataloging the collection (along with a number of other librarian duties). But in non-library terms I am entering information about our books into a database of software on the computers that will allow users to search for, find books, and check them out. Sound easy? Partly. Thankfully, in the past I have worked both at reference desks and as a cataloger. This means I understand how to catalog but also understand how library users look for books. This way I can make sure when I catalog and describe the books that I make them understandable to the user.

Anyway, when I first arrived (as I've said before) the library had no internet access and no computers. I quickly realized that there would be number of things I would have to consider before I could begin this project, many of which hadn't crossed my mind. My first task was to choose and ILS, assuming of course that computers were on the way.

I did a lot of research in January and February about ILS's and their requirements.I quickly found that many of them were not an option for the library at RTC. Here are the questions I had to ask about potential ILS's:
  • Does it require the internet? For the first couple months I didn't know if we would be able to get (reliable) internet access in the library. Many ILS's are internet based. Not a good combination.
  • How much does it cost? Our budget isn't very big! And anything not spent on the ILS I am hoping to use to buy new books.
  • How do we pay? Using credit cards and writing checks are a more complicated from Uganda.
  • How is it installed? i.e. Will we have to wait for software to be shipped to us? Getting packages from overseas can take months.
  • What's the capacity? i.e. How many books can be entered into the database?
  • Is it easy to use? Both for other staff and also for students who may have never used a computer before.
  • Does it have a public searching component (OPAC in library-speak)? 
  • How is it networked to other computers? Thankfully I took a computer networking class in grad school but I am not an expert. I didn't want anything that required extensive networking.
  • What kind of technical support is available? My position is only for one year...I want to make sure RTC can get help after I leave. 
  • Does it have frequent updates? Honestly, this is tricky. Obviously updates are good but with limited bandwidth and internet and technical abilities, that could also be a problem.
  • What is the process for cataloging? Is it easy to use and intuitive? I am more than happy to train other library staff (I love teaching!) but, sadly, don't have time to go as in depth as I would like. I wanted something that would be fairly self explanatory.
So, yeah, that's what I thought about for my first month and half here. It was an overwhelming task. Really, these are just questions that would be asked about any type of similar project but with limited internet and time it was a lot to think about. Also, as a solo librarian I don't have a lot of people to consult with.

[Side note: I found an article during all my research that talked about how to choose an ILS. Step one? Form a committee. That made me laugh because I WAS the committee. :) Step Two? Create timeline. Check. I'm here for a one year commitment. Other steps? Download demos, create RFP, etc. VERY helpful information for sure but, well, you get the idea. Not all relevant for this situation.]

At any rate, thank goodness for listservs of librarians who share there experiences! Thankfully, I also have a friend who is a librarian at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda who is also involved in Uganda's library consortium. After I had narrowed down my options, I asked him what other libraries in Uganda use. My top choice was one the ones he mentioned. At that point, I just decided that would be it. (For all you librarians out there, it's a simple/basic program called ResourceMate. I would have preferred opensource but, again, wasn't sure about my internet situation.)

Did I think I made the perfect choice? No idea. Maybe, maybe not. I hope so. But what I am continuing to learn here is that I have to trust the decisions I make and not second guess them. I am learning to trust my instincts and move on. With a only one year commitment and a lot to do I can't spend forever making choices. And, honestly? Almost anything we do in the library will make it better. I am learning to let go of my inner perfectionist. And that is certainly a perfect thing to do.

**Yes, I realize this is a long, rather library-focused post. But it's all part of the story, right? And a reminder for everyone that librarians do NOT spend all day reading. ;-)

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