Lincoln Trail Libraries System has been in the Integrated Library System (ILS) business for almost 30 years. This article describes the objectives from the early years that continue to support this service today.
Lincoln Trail Libraries System automated the circulation of the LTLS building collection beginning in 1978. As a result of the success of that project, the LTLS Board of Directors approved a plan to join with member libraries who also wished to automate their circulation, creating the first shared program. The intent was not only to automate circulation but also to provide an on-line union catalog of holdings of the members of Lincoln Trail Libraries System which would greatly facilitate system-wide resource sharing and collection development.
Lincoln Trail Libraries System began to automate eight libraries with the shared ILS system. Seven public libraries in Champaign, Danville, Urbana, Rantoul, Charleston, Monticello, Mahomet and Philo and the Lakeland Community College Library elected to participate in that first grant. Thus the groundwork for cooperation among more than one type of library was laid from the inception of the shared automation project.
Several objectives were established with the very
first grants. The primary reason for Lincoln Trail Libraries System involvement
in the project was to facilitate resource sharing. While assisting libraries
in automating circulation and local operations was important to the system,
the interlibrary resource sharing aspect was critical to the system’s primary mission. The second objective was that of multitype involvement. While other library systems in Illinois participated in these grant programs for shared automation, Lincoln Trail Libraries System was the first system to include a non-public library as an original partner in the activity. This involvement of more than one type of library has paid high dividends over the years in system members’ attitudes
and commitment to share resources to further the access and delivery of materials
for all patrons.
A third objective was sharing bibliographic records. Early in the project Lincoln Trail contracted with MINI MARC to assist in the retroconversion of library catalogs into machine-readable format. This project removed variation in cataloging practices among members and created a more consistent catalog and a viable union catalog. MINI MARC was particularly successful in speeding up the conversion process, but was eliminated after one year, due to costs, as other methods were found to support this objective.
A fourth objective was that the program was designed as a shared cost program from the beginning. Libraries always paid their own telecommunications charges needed to connect to the main server. In addition, libraries assisted in the payment of ongoing costs for maintenance and support of the central site computer equipment. While the formulas and amounts have changed over the years, the concept that the program is a shared responsibility has been maintained.
A fifth objective was the involvement of a users group of the participating libraries in the decision making process. The users group began by meeting on a monthly basis to share information and at first was not a policy making body. The automation project was one of many service programs of the Lincoln Trail Libraries System and the fiscal and policy-making aspect was retained by the Board of Directors. However, it was established early on that local operational policy decisions needed to be shared between Lincoln Trail Libraries System and the members.
Training, along with the commitment to its importance, was the sixth objective that would continue and expand significantly as the project grew. Lincoln Trail assumed responsibility for the training of members on how to utilize the automation system. The early training for the first grant focused on data entry procedures and has grown to a regular program of more than twenty-five courses to improve the ability of library staff to best utilize the functions of the shared system.
It is important to note that these objectives still are basic to the shared ILS that is now called LINC. The Board, system staff, and member libraries are to be commended for having far-reaching vision so that the project that started with eight libraries now includes more than sixty individual library buildings
A second group of eight libraries joined the shared system in 1981. Again the composition of those members was multitype in nature. There were five public libraries (Georgetown, Charleston, Tuscola, Tolono, and Villa Grove); two community colleges (Parkland and Danville Area Community College); and the first special library, Chanute Technical Training Center.
Another innovation, the installation of OCLC cataloging workstations at Lincoln Trail Libraries System to allow for downloading of records from OCLC into the automation system, happened during this project. This was the beginning of using OCLC for the cataloging for the shared system and further expanded our fourth objective of sharing bibliographic data. While the step was not taken at that time to only accept bibliographic data from OCLC, the foundation was laid for this to happen in the future.
During this period , as changes were happening in the library automation world, Lincoln Trail Libraries System, along with its members, began an internal study to determine the future of the shared system database. Should the database be continued as a short bibliographic database or should the system undertake a process to enhance the database by moving to a MARC-based system. The automation system was approximately 10 years old. some members were satisfied with the status of the product while others wanted to go to the next level of more online access for the public as well as better means of data access. MARC records would afford that access, however, that would mean converting approximately 450,000 bibliographic records to MARC, adding more hardware and software, and maintaining the database in MARC once it was converted. This was not an easy decision, but in reviewing the market place and the desires and needs of the libraries, it was recommended that the database should be based on MARC records as the recognized standard for data storage and retrieval.
As a result of that study, which enhanced the shared bibliographic objective of the system, Lincoln Trail applied for and received an LSCA grant to upgrade the database to MARC through a retrospective conversion process. Lincoln Trail staff wrote a Request for Proposals for machine conversion of the database. Following this activity the staff of Lincoln Trail and member libraries began to utilize OCLC to individually enter information from the remaining records where there was not a match from the machine conversion. The final phase was to physically match the remaining records with materials in the library and to originally catalog the new and unique records. The grant paid for the first two phases of machine and individual conversion but could not fund the part of physical match of records and new cataloging due to time constraints of federal funding and limited staff resources in member libraries. This part of the project has been continued with local resources.
This phase of improvement of the shared automation project was also a success. The 450,000 bibliographic records were now in MARC format, the database became portable, and the subject access to resources was enhanced as the database could be searched by keyword and the records themselves were more easy to manipulate.
Another important by-product of conversion was the ongoing commitment of libraries to maintaining the MARC database. As a result of the decision to have a MARC database and the subsequent grant to implement the retrospective conversion of MARC, the libraries also developed a shared means of adding new MARC records to the system. Again the original objective from the first grant was continued and enhanced. One of the key elements of this ongoing process was the implementation of the Lincoln Trail Libraries System Cataloging Center. The shared automation program had libraries of all sizes as participants and many libraries did not have professional cataloging operations or did not have access to the bibliographic utilities to search and add records. Therefore the LTLS Cataloging Center was instituted for libraries who did not have the facilities to provide MARC cataloging according to the standards and criteria developed by the member libraries for adding new records to the database. The members determined after a through staff study that the source for all new records would be OCLC and that no records would be entered directly into the database.
Lincoln Trail and the member libraries issued an Request for Proposal for an enhanced automation system and a contract was awarded to a new vendor. As the staff and members migrated the database from one vendor to another, the process would have been much more difficult had the database been in a non-MARC format. The funding for the new shared system came from adding new members as well as sharing costs between those libraries who were continuing from the very early projects. At that time the program was given a new name, LINC, (Libraries IN Cooperation). Prior to that time it had been known by the name of the automation vendor, which did not adequately describe the sharing and cooperation that the program entailed. At the time of the migration new modules were made available -- Media Scheduling, Gateway access to other databases, Homebound Services, Community Resources, Serials, and Acquisitions.
In addition to new modules, the functionality was enhanced tremendously. The most significant enhancement was the ability of patrons to place holds on local library resources. In addition patrons were given the opportunity to get materials from other libraries by placing their own holds rather than making requests to library staff. This became known as Patron Initiated Interlibrary Loan and changed the face of Interlibrary Loan in for library users in East Central Illinois.
Another feature that was made available early was dial access to the LINC database. This feature allowed patrons to search the database from their home or work to get information or to determine who had materials they needed prior to going to the library. The reciprocal borrowing agreements allowed patrons to then go to the library of choice to get materials so that their needs could be satisfied quickly. Anther feature of the dial access was the ability of patrons to place holds remotely thus getting the same functionality at home or work as well as in the library.
An additional feature added to LINC was gateway access
to other databases. Through this feature and the Illinois State Library's
funding of OCLC's FirstSearch™ the
patrons received access to bibliographic data, periodical databases and full
text materials that they never had before. This all became part of the online
catalog in the local libraries and a true enhancement to the LINC program.
This continued to further the original purpose that was an underpinning of
the original federal grants of enhancing resource sharing and information access.
Looking back through the early years of the LTLS ILS service, it is evident that the early infrastructure has contributed to the success of the ILS service today. The early decisions focused on data quality, enhancement of resource-sharing, and service to the patron. Those same considerations continue to be the highest priorities as LTLS and its members look to the future. Although the pace of change is accelerating as new technologies are released daily, the solid underpinnings that structure the LTLS shared automation service will allow us to more forward.