I have been asked by my administrator to look into the different software packages available to automate our Church Library. I am currently using a very simple system to catalog the books. It is called BookCat. However, my administrator likes the idea of self check out by church members when someone is not available to man the library. I would like to know what others are using and the pros and cons of that system. Thank you for any help offered.
One resource to connect with others re pros and cons of automation systems is
http://ca.groups.yahoo.com/group/churchlibraryautomation. Started last fall by CLABC (Congregational Libraries Association of British Columbia), it's a place for church librarians who have automated, or are thinking of automating, to share ideas, tips, questions, etc.
It saves us SO much time in communicating with our patrons, and it saves paper, toner and postage.
The majority of the libraries in our Southern California ECLA chapter use ResourceMate if they are automated. I heard they just came out with an upgrade, which I haven't had time to look into yet. (I'm not recommending it, just sharing information).
Here are some pointers:
Before committing to a system, make sure you get input from your church technology team. Always think to the future - you may want to make your catalog available to your members via Internet at some point (or now!), so find out if the software you're purchasing can do that on the computer system/Internet access your church has.
Another thing is the annual renewal fees - they can be very expensive, but they may be worth the cost. If you have a large church and busy library circulating hundreds of things (especially if you have a school on campus you provide resources for) you want a good system that is fast and easy to use, and a catalog window that's easy for your workers AND patrons to use, and a system that will do the circulation efficiently. You'll probably want something with immediate (phone or email) technical assistance in case there are problems that won't wait. You'll also want something that's easy to back up on a daily basis.
If you have a small library and can continue to get by with a card checkout system, perhaps all you want (at this point, anyway) is a catalog so you know what you have and can make that accessible to your patrons, or at least to your staff, so you can look up items and locate them for patrons. Having immediate tech assistance is less important. Just make sure it's a system that you can export data from (or upgrade from), in case you need to change in the future - you don't want to have to re-enter all the data by hand again. That's one of the drawbacks of some "home-made" or very cheap systems - you come to depend on them and then are locked into a system that can't be converted when needs change or other opportunities come along.
I would suggest looking into several systems and then then asking other local church libraries to let you "intern" with them, to see how you like their system. Spend a day or two with each as time permits, and you will get the feel of the system. Make a list of questions beforehand so you know what you need to be shown & want to practice doing. Ask and make notes from their experience as to how they did things - you may find that different groups using the same system are doing things in very different ways.
For example, just setting up how the patron versus the item barcode numbers are assigned is an important decision. You may want patrons to have an easy number, say four digits, while items have 5 or more digits. But if you have a church with more than 9,999 potential borrowers, you'll need to allow 5 digits for patron barcodes/library numbers so you'll probably want to assign at least 6 digits for item barcodes.
You might also want to set up "ranges" of barcode numbers for specific kinds of patrons, or items. For example, perhaps you want to allocate 2,000 barcodes just for DVDs, or 10,000 barcodes for fiction and 10,000 for nonfiction books, or 5,000 barcodes for this vendor or that one. Just understanding that you do not need to assign every barcode in order (you can skip numbers) can make your organizing easier. If you want to do this, always think in terms of how many items you may need numbers for in 5 to 10 years, not just the present. Then make a spread sheet for your ranges so you can refer to them easily. And always start the range with an ending digit of 1.
Other important questions might be about what happens if I have more than one copy of an item (can they go under the same record, or will they appear in the catalog as separate entries?), or if those titles are not in the same format (one is a paperback, one's a hardback, or an audio edition, etc.). Library automation products are quite complex, and becoming more so. That's why they're expensive and may need an annual fee to provide tech assistance and upgrades.
Be sure the product you choose can download information for 13-digit ISBNs. 10 used to be the standard but now 13 is.
I would also look for a system that you can email the late notices through directly, from your circulation system to their home computer. That will save postage or time phoning, or hand entering email notices. Almost everyone has email these days. If you have a small circulation, it's not that important, but if you have a large number of patrons or heavy circulation, it's definitely worth having if available.