Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Library nears completion of $1M computer system

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County's library is nearing completion of a $1 million computer system that should make it easier for users to virtually navigate its 42 locations.

The system, being installed by Huntsville, Ala.-based Sirsi Corp., will debut Aug. 9, replacing the library's 12-year-old online catalog with one that looks and runs more like a computer search engine.

The current catalog - called CINCH, for the Computerized Information Network of Cincinnati and Hamilton County - works OK but searches on it take several steps, said James Carney IV of Northside.

The 15-year-old uses CINCH to find books for school papers and book reports, and music on compact disc.

"If it's faster and easier, I'm all for it," James said. . "If you type in the name of anything, it should automatically come up."

That's exactly how the system will work, whether the searcher is using a library terminal or a home or business PC, library officials said.

The $1 million investment will also combine all aspects of the library operation - from buying books to checking them out - for the first time.

That should mean that new books, CDs and DVDs reach readers faster, spokeswoman Amy Banister said.

It took the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County a long time to replace its homemade online catalog because technology wasn't up to the challenge until recently, Banister said.

Sirsi was selected for its expertise in library systems; it has installed more than 10,000 from Abilene, Texas, to Washington, D.C.

The library has had a freeze on new capital projects such as construction for almost two years because of budget cuts in the Ohio General Assembly, which supplies 95 percent of its $50 million budget.

It had already set aside money for the new system, Executive Director Kimber Fender said.

And there could be a budgetary upside to the new computer system.

The library spends more than $150,000 a year on materials, postage and staff time to send notices that requested books are in or checked-out books are overdue, Banister said.

Once the new system is in place, patrons will be encouraged to receive such notices by e-mail or automated phone call.

"People were saying, 'Gee, if you have to save money, why are you sending me these cards to tell me my books are in? Why not just send me an e-mail?'" said Tara Khoury, president of the library's Board of Trustees. "The old system couldn't do that."

The trustees voted Monday to close the library Aug. 7 and 8 - the weekend before the new system debuts - to complete the switch.

Tops in holdings

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has the seventh-highest circulation in the country, and it is first in its number of holdings with more than 10 million books and other materials, according to a 2003 survey of public libraries.


E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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